Apache Rodeo and The Iroquois

Feb 15th, 1995 | By | Category: 6-4: New Respect for Indian History, Media Reviews
By Paul Boyer

APACHE RODEO COVERApache Rodeo
By Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith
Photographs by Lawrence Migdale
1995, Holiday House, 32 pages, $15.95 

The Iroquois
By Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
Illustrated by Ronald Himler
1995, Holiday House, 32 pages, $15.95 

Review by Paul Boyer

Real Cowboys and Indians 

A generation ago, children’s literature American Indian culture is sharing in the renaissance. Many books retell stories from the oral tradition, while others use Indian imagery. Ten Little Rabbits (Chronicle Books, 1991), for example, is a delightful counting book for young children where Indian rabbits are dressed in costumes of ten different tribes. Still, there is a tendency to only depict American Indians as people of the past. All too easily, mean-spirited caricatures can turn into overly was more likely to mock than celebrate other cultures. Little Black Sambo cleverly turned tigers into butter, but he was depicted as a grinning blackface. And Indians? They were as distant and fanciful as Never Never Land, where Peter Pan’s Lost Boys dressed in feathers and paint before attacking Captain Hook.

But children today can choose from a vast gallery of literature that depicts nonwestern traditions with care and depth. Recently released books tell the story of a Japanese immigrant, and several describe the dreams and everyday lives of African Americans. Many are lushly illustrated, offering a visual feast that appeals to adults as much as (and sometimes more than) children.

American Indian culture is sharing in the renaissance. Many books retell stories from the oral tradition, while others use Indian imagery. Ten Little Rabbits (Chronicle Books, 1991), for example, is a delightful counting book for young children where Indian rabbits are dressed in costumes of ten different tribes.

Still, there is a tendency to only depict American Indians as people of the past. All too easily, mean-spirited caricatures can turn into overly romanticized caricatures. We see Indians dressed in colorful traditional costumes, but are offered no acknowledgment that they are also a contemporary people.

We noted with pleasure the arrival of two new books that, without sacrificing entertainment, focus on the lives of modern Indian culture. Apache Rodeo and The Iroquois, both from Holiday House, allow young readers to see Indians as real and interesting people.

Apache Rodeo follows the life of Felecita, a real Apache girl from the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona. She tells her story in the first person, describing her home, family, interests, and her tribe’s history in a style that is chatty, not preachy. Accompanying photographs show her helping her family, talking to elders, and doing beadwork with her mother. Much of the book is devoted to her participation in a rodeo. Other photos show tribal members working in schools, at a lumber mill and studying at a vocational program. These are normal people leading normal lives.

Talking with an elder, she learns what life was like before the reservation was established and describes different opinions about the reservation:

Eva [the elder] says that for her, the reservation is like a prison. Before it existed, the Apaches could go anywhere they wanted to. She doesn’t think the reservation is good. 

My father thinks of it in another way. He believes the reservation has helped the White Mountain Apaches to stay together. Living together as a group has helped us to keep our identity, culture, and much of our way of life from disappearing. 

These brief observations offer a level of understanding that very few non-Indian adults appreciate.

The Iroquois is mostly about traditional life. Divided into distinct sections, it describes the famous Iroquois League, the role of men and women, and spiritual beliefs, among others. Accompanying watercolors are lively, if not especially inspired. The final four pages bring the tribe into the modern era and reports that “Iroquois go to college and become teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and businessman.” This assertion should be self-evident, but it is often not acknowledged even in many scholarly texts.

Both books are appropriate additions to a home or school library. For non- Indians, they offer a refreshing insight into modern Indian life. For American Indian children, they help acknowledge Indians as real people.

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