Oct 11, 2021

Indigenous Peoples Day: Celebrate and Learn

Interior, Indian Community School. Franklin, WI

 I have the joy and privilege of living quite near THE INDIAN COMMUNITY SCHOOL in a metropolitan/suburban community in southeast Wisconsin. I've visited it several times and am friends with some who teach in that state-of-the-art building. It was designed and built to reflect  the authenticity and authority of the Native People who first established the school more than fifty years ago. 

Today, the second Monday in October, was officially named Indigenous Peoples Day by President Biden. Students at this Wisconsin school took on the challenge of gaining this designation locally (Milwaukee County) several years ago. Their real-world project involved research, documentation, persuasion, cultural integration, public speaking, and more.

Signing ceremony, October, 2019

All of that, including the "and more", resulted in Milwaukee County officially designating the day. They moved forward with their effort to the state level the following year, which was not immediately successful or officially established. 

In 2019, though, Governor Evers arranged to  sign the proclamation in person at their school, creating the first INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DAY in Wisconsin in 2019.

What is most impressive about these accomplishments is the motivation behind this effort. The students had been learning about indigenous people and their places in American history since the earliest days in school. Their mission was not only to express pride in their own identity and heritage, but to take steps to inform the broader community and to dispel myths and misconceptions about Native People and their history. 

Charlesbridge, 2021

WE ARE STILL HERE: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know
is a nonfiction picture book that shares this mission. Written by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Frane Lessac, this important and appealing book opens onto a title page spread that invites the community to attend a school celebration of INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DAY. Readers travel trough the event by reading a brief introduction to who Native Nations are, then see a white board display of the topics-presentations the students have planned. which serves as a table of contents. 

Each expansive spread presents one of twelve historic topics, from Assimilation to Sovereign Resurgence. Each lays out facts in simple and objective statements, displayed within clearly illustrated scenes that help to clarify the content and fully respect the cultures of those portrayed. 

Each describes painful realities, but without an inflammatory or accusatory tone. (Back matter offers resources to learn more and to pursue verification of the content.) Each double spread concludes with text placed on the lower right page to assert the most significant truth of all: despite the injustices and mistreatments described, "WE ARE STILL HERE". Despite denial, displacement, and systemic destructive forces in legal and de facto practices, Indigenous People  continue to live, work, and survive in a society that has often tried to eliminate them. 

Joyful and contemporary images are included, in a style that is colorful, welcoming, and kid-friendly. Young readers will be drawn to the characters on the page, recognizing more similarities than differences. Consciously or unconsciously, the images allow readers to unpack any stereotypical assumptions or misunderstandings they might have about Native Americans in the past or present.

Back matter includes short paragraphs about other facts that should be noted. An annotated  timeline  begins in 1871 when the United States officially STOPPED  writing and honoring existing treaties, after which Indigenous people were subjected to the patterns and practices described in the book, and also became virtually invisible in American culture and curricula. A glossary, sources, and author's note extend the usefulness of this picture book from early elementary through upper grades (and adult!). 

This creative team has earned starred reviews and praise already, with awards likely Their previous collaboration, WE ARE THANKFUL: Ostaliheliga,  honors the language, culture, and heritage of Cherokee People, acknowledging and celebrating life in the past and in contemporary society. The author is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and both books are infused with joyful pride and honest details, both values that resonate in the illustrations. 

This new offering is a nominee in the elementary nonfiction category for 2021 Cybils Awards, and merits the attention, careful reading, and discussion that the subtitle states: Native American Truths That Everyone Should Know. Don't miss it!

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