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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Years of Dust

I‘ve mentioned YEARS OF DUST by Albert Marrin in this post and that one, but it’s never had its own post until now.  Debbie Reese posted some of her objections to the book on her blog and I wanted to address those concerns. 
1.  My understanding is that the hunters as a group ate several pounds of meat, not each individual hunter.
2.   Debbie, your objection to the Schreyvogel illustration is a classic logical fallacy called argument ad hominem (attacking the man) and really amounts to nothing.  What you need to do here is to show that this particular illustration is inaccurate (i.e. the Indian dress is inaccurate, the hunting method depicted is inaccurate, etc.)  I understand that his background makes you suspicious, but you need to take the next step and show us that this particular photo does not serve the text, otherwise you are just as shoddy a researcher as you accuse Marrin of being. 
3.  I’m not sure how widely you read nonfiction, but it’s perfectly acceptable to quote a piece of fiction to illustrate a point and there are many recent books that we could cite.  Indeed, we already discussed how CHARLES AND EMMA effectively alludes to Charles Dickens and Jane Austen to give readers an idea of the setting.  In this case, it is widely known that the Wilder books are fiction, but autobiographical, and thus the quote is particularly effective at making that point.
4.  You say there is no mention of American Indians in the main text–that they are relegated to sidebars–and then later you confess that you only read a quarter of the book and browsed some of the rest.   But actually the Seattle quote and the "Migrant Mother" anecdote are in the main narrative.  So you cannot really make that claim, right?   Nevertheless, the reason the American Indians do not figure more prominently in the main narrative is because their use of the land did not cause soil erosion, despite the same cycle of drought that occurred once whites settled the land.  If you’d like to argue that American Indians did cause the Dust Bowl . . . well, I’m all ears.  Marrin discusses the buffalo in the main text to contrast them with cattle and the way the two animals eat the plains grass differently and how that difference leads to soil erosion.  Yet Marrin does not want the plains to seem devoid of American Indians and that’s why they get sidebars.  The sidebars provide for interesting diversions from the text, but don’t necessarily support the main thrust of the narrative.  
5.  There are a couple of instances where you take things out of context.  First, Marrin is imputing this thought–Flat, treeless, and dry, the grasslands were fit only for wild beasts and nomadic Indians–to the Army officer.  It is not Marrin’s view and he clearly disapproves of it.   And, likewise, this statement which Marrin imputes to white settlers of the time: Progress, as white people saw it, demanded that both the buffalo and Indians should go.  Are you really disputing this?   It seems like you spend lots of time and energy decrying this viewpoint, and yet when Marrin joins your fight . . . you take issue?  
6.   You do have some arguments that I am receptive to.  First, I agree with you about the Anasazi being the ancestors of the Pueblo, but I’d like to double check this quote to see its contextand I don’t have the book in front of me.  And, second, I think you may have a really good point–and your strongest argument–about the Hopi Snake Dance  (although you imply by innuendo that there is something wrong with the caption but you never really tell us what it is).  I’ll try to look into these further.
7.  I think the incorporation of Florence Owens Means (aka Migrant Mother) shows how Marrin has attempted, at least, to acknowledge American Indians.   He could have told the story of the Dust Bowl without any mention of American Indians–indeed, many have probably already done so–but he did not, and whether or not you think he successfully depicted their place in history and ecology, I think you have to acknowledge the effort.  
8.  The Gore quote that you cite actually acknowledges that this speech/letter has passed through "numerous translations and retellings" so I think Gore, at least, has an understanding that these are not Chief Seattle’s actual words.  Gore implies that there is a kernel of truth that has survived these numerous versions–and he may be right, of course–but we have no way of knowing it.

I would like to encourage you to read the rest of the book, Debbie, and continue this dialogue.  If YEARS OF DUST and A SEASON OF GIFTS are up for consideration for an award, then each and every member of that committee will read the book in its entirety, at least once, probably more times.  I think it behooves us to make the same effort, especially when we would damn or praise these books.  

Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. In her blog post Debbie Reese has a problem with the following assertion:
    “These hunters [Lakota and Cheyenne] ate buffalo meat at every meal, several pounds at a time.”

    Then Ms. Reese goes on to say:
    Several pounds of buffalo meat at every meal? Really? That’d be one big hamburger!

    Then unfortunately, Jonathan totally wimps out…and mucks his hand by saying:
    1. My understanding is that the hunters as a group ate several pounds of meat, not each individual hunter.

    As someone who snarks when it comes to shoddy research, it seems here it is actually Ms. Reese who is the one who needs to do some research!!!

    In Stephen Ambrose’s book Undaunted Courage about the Lewis and Clark expedition and reinforced in Frances Hunter’s American Hero’s Blog are facts concerning the number of calories these men on the Lewis and Clark expedition burned in a day.

    As Frances says in her blog:..
    “The concept of the calorie in nutrition hadn’t yet been invented, but the men would be expending a whopping 5000 calories a day. To put that in perspective, the average male office worker needs about 2200 calories a day; an elite male athlete in training about 3500.
    In other words, the men of the Corps needed an enormous number of calories just to keep going, and that meant meat and lots of it–about six to nine pounds of meat per person per day.”

    The USDA says the buffalo meat contains 640 calories per pound.
    So 5000calories per day / 640calories per pound = 7.8 pounts of buffalo meat per day.
    So the math works…

    So let’s say an Indian buffalo hunter doesn’t work as hard and only expends 4000 calories per day, that’s still 6.25 pounds of buffalo meat per day per man.

    And for the elite male athelete 3500 calories translates to 5.5 pounds of buffalo per day.

    And good news for male office workers(Jonathan). You get to eat 3.5 pounds of buffalo meat per day.

  2. Debbie Reese says:

    Yes, Jonathan, I’m still reading and thinking about the book. Marrin’s treatment of Native content is old hat to me, but like a much-loved old hat to most people who do not look critically at Native content. Hence, what I wrote needs a lot more background. Thanks for that nudge. I’m working on it.

    In between teaching yesterday, I started digging in to the identity of Florence Owens Thompson. That was really the big surprise for me as I read/skimmed through the book. Was she Cherokee? Or was she claiming to be Cherokee? One bit of information I found is a bio that says she was born in a tepee on a reservation, but Cherokees didn’t use tipis. It is possible that she was born in a tipi on a reservation, but is it likely? I don’t think so.

  3. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. No amount of thinking and research compensates for not reading the book entirely.

    2. The Seattle speech raises a red flag; it justifiably makes us wary of the rest of the content. If Marrin made this make, what other mistakes could he make? I think that is a natural thought process, but it works both ways. If Debbie, a college professor in an American Indian studies program, does not know about the diet of Plains Indians, what else does she not know? Now blogging is a much messier form of dialogue than scholarly research, but I think the point holds true.

    3. Debbie, I challenge you to find a history of this period, the Dust Bowl, written for this audience that focuses this much on American Indians. You’re not going to find it because it doesn’t exist. So it’s not old hat in that respect.

    4. It is old hat in the sense that you have the same objections to this book that you have to *any* book written by a non-Native person: (a) the book ignores Native people as if they didn’t exist and (b) the book inaccurately portrays Native people. Normally, a book falls under one of these two categories, but strangely you are criticizing Marrin for doing both! He ignores Native people! No, he portays them inaccurately! No, he ignores them! No, that’s wrong!

    5. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve followed your blog occasionally and the dialogue on various listservs, namely child_lit, and I’ve noticed that you seem to read only two kinds of children’s books. First, bad books written by non-Native writers which you typically read until you find about ten things wrong, then you throw up your hands in digust, and walk away. And, second, good books written by Native writers. There may be good non-Native writers and bad Native writers, but I’d never know about them from reading your blog. I don’t have a problem with that but it’s an obvious bias, one that we have to account for when we read your criticism.

    6. I look forward to learning what you find out about Florence Owens Thompson. If we cannot find credible evidence that she was not Cherokee should we assume that she is?

  4. rrr…I still haven’t finished a thorough read of Years of Dust so it’s been difficult for me to say much in this discussion. But I do feel the need now to leap in to say a few things…

    Jonathan, Debbie’s blog is her blog. It’s got a focus. You say you don’t have a problem with it, but you do seem to belittle it. One of the things I admire most about Debbie’s criticism is that she doesn’t reduce it to whether the author is Native or not. She always approaches it from how the subject matter is portrayed. To claim that she has a certain kind of objection to “*any* book written by a non-Native person” is inaccurate.

    We all have our biases in criticsm. It’s fine to recognize them all.

    One of the difficulties for me in reading this book is that I AM very familiar with these sorts of problems in others of Marrin’s books, particularly his Sitting Bull biography. So that’s my bias before I even get to Years of Dust.

    I’ll try to address this better in a post when I can finish the book.

  5. Debbie Reese says:

    So are you telling me, Jonathan, that I should be quiet until I’ve completely read a book? You said in an earlier post that you’d like to know what I think of Marrin’s book, so, I’ve posted some thoughts about it, but now, you don’t like what I said? I was careful to note that I’d read only partway through the book.

    Yes, I’m a professor in American Indian Studies, but I’m not a scholar of the Plains Indians. It takes a lot of research to be able to say anything definitive about any single tribe. There’s a hell of a lot that I do not know. Some things leap out to me as off-base, like what Marrin said about buffalo meat. I guess you’re making that jab based on what anon1 said? The amount of meat struck me as a problem, and, that it would be eaten at every meal also gave me pause. Don’t you wonder about that?

    Another red flag for me was the way he wrote about the Anasazi. I think that’s just passing along of what I do call “old hat” knowledge. Maybe my use of “old hat” was a mistake. There is a body of “knowledge” about who American Indian people were and are, but it is deeply flawed. That’s my starting place. I assume its going to be wrong.

    I don’t think there is a dust bowl book like the kind you’re asking for, Jonathan, that “focuses this much on American Indians.” Marrin, given who he is, however, is IDEALLY situated to give us a terrific book, but his starting place seems to be the same-old-same-old. Romantic ideas about American Indians, and empty-lands, too! He goes to great lengths to describe lifestyles of white settlers. Why couldn’t he do that with Native communities, villages, etc., that were on the Great Plains? Instead he gives us the empty or near-empty-land myth. I looked at his bibliography and don’t see anything that suggests he consulted any scholarship at all produced by scholars (Native or not) in American Indian Studies. It was a missed opportunity for all of us.

    And you’re wrong about what I recommend. I do recommend non-Native authored materials. One example is Fred Hoxie’s encyclopedia. Fred is not Native. Also on my list is Bob Parker’s book on Jane Johnston Schoolcraft.

    And how do you know what I read?! I definitely WRITE most about crap-books by non-Native writers that the reviewing committee praises and gives starred reviews to because I don’t think the reviewing community is doing a very good job with respect to Native content. And I do write about books by Native writers that I want kids to have access to because those books can do two things. They provide good story/information, and the teacher can say “hey kids! This book is by a Native writer named X who is of the X Nation located X place.” I’m not going to write about the universe of books on my site. You all do that already. And because most of you miss the things that I notice, I’m going to continue to do what I do.

    In his book, Marrin ignores American Indian content when he could have include it, and, when he DOES include it, he includes….

    1) mistaken information about Anasazi that was originally written and circulated by whites,

    2) art by whites that had a specific anti-Indian agenda, and

    3) fiction created by whites that gets presented as written by Natives.

    I bring a specific perspective to the books I write about. And yes, I am disgusted with a lot of what is out there, both old and new. I wish you were, too. Maybe significant change would happen.

  6. Jonathan Hunt says:

    1. Nina, I have not read SITTING BULL, but have read two other Marrin books, one of which I had serious problems with. Sometimes I wonder if the nonfiction authors that publish a book or two every year are not taking as much care with their sources as they should. I’ve had that thought about Marrin in the past and I’m certainly having it now. I look forward to your comments on YEARS OF DUST. I personally think it has lots of strengths (and obviously some weaknesses, too). In another year it might have been a contender, but probably not this one.

    I’m sorry I came across as belittling Debbie’s blog. Like I said, I’m an occasional reader and those are my perceptions based on what I’ve read. I value the positive reviews and I always learn something from the negative reviews (as I’m now curious to learn more about the Hopi Snake Dance and fact-check the Anasazi reference). Her viewpoint certainly informs mine, but obviously I haven’t adopted it as my own.

    2. Debbie, it’s fine to comment on YEARS OF DUST even before you finish reading it. It’s also fine not to know everything about Indians (you certainly alluded to the fact that you’d have to defer to a Hopi colleague when it came to the Snake Dance), and, yes, I was needling you about the anon’s comment.

    Obviously, I made some mistaken generalizations. First, about the non-Native writers (although while I understand your objections to THE TRAP, I never did understand your objections to THE GREAT DEATH). And second, about equating what you write with what you read. I apologize for that.

  7. The thing is, the Chief Seattle speech was debunked *years* ago – it was old news when I taught a class on “Environment & Archaeology” in 1995.

    It’s more forgivable in Gore’s case (1993), but for Marrin to use the fake speech in 2009? Not so cool. And yes, Marrin says “Seattle is said to have reminded the American envoys”, but even the most rudimentary research (wikipedia! snopes!) turns up the real speech and many articles on why Americans want the lyrical 70’s words to be true.

    It’s a shame, because the book is really beautiful and thought provoking, and I *want* more nonfiction to win the Newbery. If it does win, a lot more people will be harping on this error, that’s for sure.

  8. In Ms. Reese’s post on her own blog she has a point in regards to the lack of research given to the quotation of a speech by Chief Seattle.
    But that’s where she should have ended things.

    Unfortunately, then the rest of her post turns into a diatribe of political correctness…at least PC as she sees it.
    She infers that the author unfairly paints Indians as gluttons by eating several pounds of buffalo meat at one sitting (which they most certainly did…see my previous comment).
    She attacks the artwork of a painting, then the artist, then western art in general.
    She rails when Indian’s aren’t mentioned, rails when they get only sidebar treatment, and then rails when they are on the main page.
    She throws up passage after passage of “innocuous narrative” so the reader can become thoroughly incensed…about what?
    She rails against the “Homestead Act” and the use of the term “public land”. She may not like it–but public land is what it was called back then, and still is called today (Forest Service, Park Service, Bureau of Land Management…i.e. public lands). You want the historic facts…right?

    And as far as the Pueblo being ancestors to the Anasazi, one can only wonder the reason for the name change. I could see where it could become confusing. Was it the ending of one tribe and the beginning of another? Or was it, as Ms. Reese seems to imply, a continuity of descendancy.
    If continuity is the case, then where is the outrage? Shouldn’t the historical record be corrected so that the Pueblo can regain its rightful name of Anasazi? Or were there other descendant tribes as well? And which tribe gets the honor of re-claiming the Anasazi name? After giving it some thought, maybe it was better that the author didn’t dive into this trivia. After all, this was a book about the “dust bowl” which was an agricultural disaster brought on by the white man’s destructive agricultural practices.
    The title of this book was not “The Definitive History of the Native American Tribes of the Southwest” (maybe that will be this author’s next effort).

    Finally the famous “Migrant Mother” picture from the dust bowl days, points out the whole quandary of determining what is true and what isn’t. At last count I think we have three versions of the story behind the picture: the photographer’s version, the mother’s older children’s version, and a grandson’s version.

    So coming back around to Chief Seattle’s speech, award-wise, should the lack of research and misleading attribution be a deal breaker?
    In a word…YES!
    In a previous post entitled “Team Nonfiction: The Second Wave” I think Monica Edinger hit the nail on the head concerning this issue when she said (and since Ms. Edinger had six separate comments, I’m combining some lines of her comments here):
    “While Seattle’s exact words are no longer available, the earlier transcripts of what he supposedly said (also easily found online) do not present the environmental sentiments of that 70s speech writer used by Gore and now by Marrin. I have to acknowledge that because I’ve done a lot of research and writing about the Seattle speech controversy my buttons are pushed when I see the false speech presented yet again as the chief’s actual words. I always hope that such a myth has been laid to rest and get incredibly bothered to see it resurface. And so my frustration would clearly compromise my reading of the whole book now to be honest.”

    So I’ll take that as a YES from Ms. Edinger…and I’ll add my own.

    It’s too bad this author didn’t use the same diligence in researching this quoted speech as he did the picture of the “Migrant Mother”. After all (if I understand it correctly), the author was using this speech as a grand finale of his entire book…and he blew it!!!!!

    So I’m afraid this one needs to go on the reject pile, along with the Peck, in which I though Peck used out of character, gratuitous, over-the-top ethnic bashing in order to generate a few laughs.

  9. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I read somewhere that Susan Campbell Bartoletti checks each fact with two different sources. This book might have benefited from that approach . . .

    Although I’ve not been a particular fan of Marrin in the past, what I appreciated about this book was how it took a comprehensive view of the Dust Bowl, what caused it, what effect it had on people living through it, what we can learn from it. I loved the way various historical genres were blended with some fine science writing to create a compelling portrait of the time.

    But, as I’ve said before, I wouldn’t rank it ahead of CLAUDETTE, MARCHING, or CHARLES and you could also convince me that a half dozen titles are also better–ALMOST ASTRONAUTS, GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM, etc. I guess, you could see YEARS OF DUST as a darkhorse for the Newbery, but I always thought it had a much better chance with the Sibert Award or the new YALSA Nonfiction Award.

  10. Debbie Reese says:

    Getting back to DUST…

    Let’s assume that Seattle’s speech was the real deal…. why isn’t his photograph alongside that speech? Why is “Praying to the spirits at Crater Lake, Oregon” shown alongside the not-Seattle-speech? The latter photo is a a man in profile, wearing a feathered headdress. My initial research shows that Curtis titled the photo “Praying to the spirits at Crater Lake, Klamath.” Was that a Klamath man? Did/do Klamath wear those long feathered headdresses? Or was this one of those props that Curtis carted around to make his photos more “authentic?” Remember—in children’s lit, we’ve got BROTHER EAGLE SISTER SKY, which has a Plains man on the cover… Is Marrin doing the same thing on many levels? And for the same purpose?

  11. Anon1...again. says:

    Ms. Reese, you asked:
    “Did/do Klamath wear those long feathered headdresses?”

    Is that retorical question with a “no” as the answer…or is this a real question?
    You said you are not an expert on Plains Indians…
    What about Klamath Indians who Wikipedia says historically inhabited the Northern Californa and Oregon areas.

    Then you continue:
    “Or was this one of those props that Curtis carted around to make his photos more “authentic?”” By the way, Wikepedia says Edward S. Curtis (Feb 16, 1868 – Oct 19, 1952)was a photographer of the American West and Native American Peoples.

    Well–who the hell knows if they wear headdresses like this–or if it was a prop! Maybe they had both their own headdresses and prop headdresses. And maybe Curtis took multiple pictures with all the headdresses? So which one headdress is this a picture of?

    The author could just as well have included a picture of Crater Lake with no humans. It’s a very pretty lake–in an environmental messagey sort of way.

    The real question you need to be asking is why wasn’t a picture of Al Gore alongside the speech.

    This author has already suffered his Tiger Woods moment due to shoddy research on something that was “easily” researchable.

    But don’t tie this author to something as obscure and open-ended as headresses(props or real), history of federal land management(rights and wrongs), or the unanswerable questions concerning ancient origins of native peoples.

  12. Debbie Reese says:

    Jonathan, you said Bartoletti checks two sources. I’m surprised. Don’t all authors check more than one source? Or is one the norm?

    I strongly encourage writers to be very careful about the sources they use when writing about American Indians.

    Going to old texts, or classic ones, or standard encyclopedias for that information is often a mistake. At my site, I recommend Hoxie’s encyclopedia and Davis’s, too. I also recommend websites maintained by Native tribes. Another excellent source is academic journals published and used in the field of American Indian Studies. Reading Native news media is yet another source.

  13. Jean Mendoza says:

    So little time before work, so much to say….

    unlike anon1, I appreciate the fact that Debbie Reese raises questions to which she does not know the answers. I appreciate that she acknowledges what she doesn’t know rather than turning to, say, Wikipedia for a quick fix. And I appreciate Debbie’s courage in signing her stuff with her own name. Finally, I often find that when people start complaining about “political correctness” it’s because their own comfort with their favorite mistaken ideas about other people has been shaken and they want to get that comfort back. Frequently it’s the first line of defense against cognitive dissonance.

    Apparently the Wikipedia entry anon1 read doesn’t mention the fact that among Native people who were photographed by Curtis – not to mention among anthropologists and museum curators — it has been known for many years now that Curtis carried around a bunch of props and had folks dress up in them if he thought that would make his pictures more “interesting” to the (non-Native) public. So that is “who the hell knows if they wear headdresses like this or if it was a prop.” Probably most Klamath or Modoc people living today would be able to tell you or Marrin or anybody whether or not that sort of headdress was part of their traditional dress. It’s worth looking into because the images Curtis created have a great deal to do with current perceptions and misperceptions of Native people. Contacting a tribal scholar or historian would not have been a bad move for an author such as Marrin — who really should be obsessive about authenticity when writing a supposedly factual book for children. Why shouldn’t we expect him to get it right?

    Anon1 also wrote, “The author could just as well have included a picture of Crater Lake with no humans. It’s a very pretty lake–in an environmental messagey sort of way.” Having lived for several summers in Crater Lake National Park (the child of a seasonal employee) I am compelled to say that there is a lot more going on there than “a very pretty lake in an environmental messagey sort of way.” Although I suppose extraordinarily violent volcanic eruptions and their aftermath are environmental messages of sorts.

    Hmm…the Dust Bowl itself was an “environmental message” — along the lines of “Hey, stupid, stop abusing the land that you count on to feed you.”

    Re: the unwillingness to accept a Pueblo person’s assertion that the so-called Anasazi could actually be among her ancestors:
    Hasn’t it been established that “Anasazi” is not what the people called themselves? And it’s safe to say that people are continuing to look into the “ancient origins of native peoples,” that new understandings are likely and will be welcomed by many of us who have never bought the “they just disappeared/died out” business, and that the idea that the Anasazi are the ancestors of contemporary Pueblo people makes sense to a great many people.

    More thoughts later…

  14. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Debbie, I’d like to think that every fact or assertion is checked with two sources. It’s possible that Marrin did check two sources, but cited only one. There’s probably enough misinformation about the speech/letter that he could have checked two erroneous sources. Possible, but probably unlikely.

    But take the example of Florence Owens Thompson. We question whether or not she is (a) full-blooded Cherokee and (b) born in a teepee. We can both find Internet sources that repeat these two facts, but can we find credible sources for each of them? Obviously, if Florence herself claimed to be Cherokee in an interview that could be one source. Another one might be a birth certificate or tribal records or something else. Once that is established by sources, we would then turn to the issue of being born in a teepee. If I understood Bartoletti correctly she wouldn’t claim Thompson is Cherokee without that second piece of evidence. You might be able to claim she is Cherokee, but not that she was born in a teepee. You might have to look at a dozen sources to find your two credible ones. That’s labor-intensive and time-consuming and explains why it takes Bartoletti four to five years between books.

    My initial suspicion about the Anasazi reference–still haven’t seen it in context–was that it could have been referring to the larger civilization of which the Pueblo is now only a remnant very much like the Mayan civilization mysteriously “disappeared” yet the descendants of those Mayan Indians clearly remain. That’s probably the one scenario I can think of that would explain and excuse the sentence you quoted.

    I am open to your criticism of the picture of the Klamath Indian.

  15. Jean Mendoza,

    Accusing people of being *too pc* because you don’t have a better argument is cheap.

    Trying to drive anons out of the conversation because you disagree with them? Also cheap.

  16. Faith, I don’t quite get the above. Jean isn’t accusing anyone of being “too pc,” she was countering that. Were you saying she has done so, or pointing out that Anon1 had said so and using it in parallel to the second comment?

    (Re “anons.” I too have an initial negative reaction to anyone not putting their name down. It makes me think you’re saying something you wouldn’t be willing to say to my face, and puts us on uneven ground, since I’m not anonymous. But I recognize that professional relationships in this forum sometimes preclude people speaking their mind. Anons, a suggestion could be to just use a fake name for the course of the conversation: you’ll avoid this reaction. However, make sure that what you say is still something you’d be willing to say aloud, facing someone. This isn’t a moderated discussion because it hasn’t needed to be so far. (None of this directed to Anon1 in particular. Just to all those potential Anons out there.))

    Whichever way Faith intended the above, I want to take it is as an opportunity to say something about the term “politically correct.” I AM going to turn to Wikipedia for this one just to grab a definition:

    “Political correctness(adjectivally, politically correct; both forms commonly abbreviated to PC) is a term denoting language, ideas, policies, and behavior seen as seeking to minimize social offense in gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, handicap, and age-related contexts. In current usage, the terms are almost exclusively pejorative, connoting “intolerant” and “intolerance””

    Note that it is a perjorative term, and if you call someone “PC” they’re going to assume you’re being perjorative, and accusing them of intolerance. Is that what you mean to say? I’ve been called PC, and it always derails the discussion. I’ve almost always been able to get the person to come back around and say what they mean in a different way (usually still in line with the definition above, but focussed to the context at hand) that allows discussion on both sides. “PC” is a label, and it’s taken as a cheap attack. I’d urge people to think about whether that’s really what you want to say. Your “attack” may be better waged without it.

  17. Debbie Reese says:

    This conversation could get to a point (if it isn’t already there) where some readers feel bad for Marrin, and that we should just stop critiquing his book.

    Still, it provides us with the opportunity to (hopefully) demonstrate how a writer could do justice to Native content.

    Looking at the photographs Marrin chose to use, you get a specific view of American Indians. In the photos, the only person shown in contemporary clothing is Seattle. The others are shown in traditional regalia (that may or may not be their own, depending on the photographer and his/her goal.) By then, Native peoples were wearing clothes much like anyone else.

    I posed questions yesterday about Marrin’s use of the Klamath Indian in headdress to make a point about how Indian people are used to serve as the conscience of America. (Not Indians of today, that is, but romantic ones of the past.) That’s what most of the photos Marrin used do: show us a romantic image, not a realistic one.

    Somewhere in this thread someone said that the book is not supposed to be about Indians, that his book is about the dust bowl. That is true, but, he uses photographs of white farmers in the section called “The Coming of the Farmers.” During that same period and before, Plains Indians and other Indian Nations in the area Marrin’s book covers were engaged in farming. They lived on farms, in houses, had schools, etc. None of those Indians are shown.

    I think you jest, right, Jonathan, about Indians causing the dust bowl? I’m not making that claim, nor am I saying white farmers are to blame. I’m not sure I’d say there is any use in pointing fingers at anyone for what happened. Drought. Federal policy. Quest of the American Dream (or greed, maybe?).

  18. Ok…Nina…point taken…I apologize for my use of the term politically correct.
    And as far as posting comments under Anon1, I must confess that I’m a would be author and am hesitant to post under my real name. If that wasn’t the case, I’d have no qualms (which brings up a whole other can of worms…should authors even be weighing in on things like this).

    Ms. Mendoza,
    Yes I previously used Wikipedia on two occasions:
    First to find out where the Klamath tribe lived.
    And secondly to find out about a man named Curtis whom Debbie Reese had mentioned in one of her comments.

    But don’t be too quick to trash Wikipedia…
    One third of the Wikipedia entry on “Chief Seattle” concerns…THE SPEECH CONTROVERSY.
    Also the entry on Edward Curtis goes into great detail concerning photo CONTROVERSIES including a side by side sample of a doctored photo.
    So it must be noted that if the author of “Years of Dust” had used Wikipedia he would have had discovered both red flags right off the bat.
    Also I never disputed the fact that this photographer used props.

    Now given the controversy surrounding this photographer, I’d be hard pressed to believe any Klamath elder would stick their necks out to give their seal of approval to any of his photographs.
    And if Edward Curtis got it wrong, did any photographer get it right?
    And assuming an elder approved a suitable picture, wouldn’t that elder tribesman still be held up to ridicule.
    Imagine the elder of the tribe being confronted with the following question:
    How could you as an elder of this tribe facilitate this author in his gratuitous use of a speech and image of a Native American to buttress a Walt Disney ending of an environmental disaster created by white men.

    The whole calorie thing was a tongue-and-cheek rant. When I read about the Lewis and Clark expedition in Undaunted Courage and it described the daily food requirements, I was floored. So it was perfectly logical for Ms. Reese to be skeptical.

    Only one or two sources for research?…Are you kidding!!! With the Internet there should be dozens!…There’s way too many sources!

    Now…about the Anazasi line in the book that Ms. Reese quotes in her blog post, and has problems with:
    “The drought drove the Anasazi away, but it is unclear where they went.”
    Saying that the Anazasi were “driven away” (went away somewhere). It’s a generalized statement. Does anybody really believe the phrase “drove away” means that they “disappeared”, that they became “extinct”?
    The phrase “It is unclear where they went” means they abandoned their pueblos and dispersed.

    In fact when you search Wikipedia on the word “Anasai” it leads directly to an entry Ancient Pueblo People or Ancestral Puebloans, and from then on the term Anasai is dropped in favor of Ancient Puebloans.
    So there you go!

    Wikipedia says (here are a few quotes):
    “It is not entirely clear why the Ancestral Puebloans migrated from their established homes in the 12th and 13th centuries. Factors examined and discussed include global or regional climate change (cf. Little Ice Age), prolonged periods of drought, cyclical periods of topsoil erosion, environmental degradation, de-forestation, hostility from new arrivals, religious or cultural change, and even influence from Mesoamerican cultures. Many of these possibilities are supported by archaeological evidence.”
    “Habitations were abandoned, tribes split and divided and resettled far elsewhere.”
    “And historians such as James W. Loewen, in his book Lies Across America: What Our Historic Markers and Monuments Get Wrong(1999), assert the ancient Pueblo did not “vanish” as is commonly portrayed in media presentations or popular books, but migrated to areas in the southwest with more favorable rainfall and dependable streams. They merged into the various Pueblo peoples whose descendants still live in Arizona and New Mexico. This perspective is not new and was also presented in reports from early 20th century anthropologists.”

    Back to the current day Pueblo tribe which Wikipedia which says:
    The Pueblos(current day) are believed to be descended from the three major cultures that dominated the region before European contact:
    1. Mogollon, an area near the Gila Wilderness
    2. Hohokam, archaeological term for a settlement in the Southwest
    3. Ancient Pueblo Peoples or the Anasazi, a term coined by the Navajos.

    So it sounds like this author got it right. Essentially the Ancient Puebloans(Anasazi) left their pueblo homes and essentially became nomadic in search of water.

    “It’s a very pretty lake–in an environmental messagey sort of way”…again Tongue-in-Cheek…notice I’ve invented the word “MESSAGEY”.
    I worked for the NPS in Yellowstone(WORLD’S LARGEST VOLCANO) for two summers during college undergrad years.
    I’ve probably been to Yellowstone, Tetons, Glacier Parks over a dozen times apiece (also Grand Canyon,Zion,Bryce)–MS. MENDOZA–I GET IT!!!!!!!!

    But before we damn the photographer Edward Curtis to hell, I urge the readers to go out and read the Wikipedia entry about “Edward Curtis”, not just about the controversy–but read the whole entire thing.
    Then be sure to look at some of the images that this man captured that are at the end of the entry.

    Here’s a short snippet of the entry about Curtis (since it is Wikipedia, I can’t say it’s either true or a bunch of propaganda):
    “Curtis made over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Indian language and music. He took over 40,000 photographic images from over 80 tribes. He recorded tribal lore and history, and he described traditional foods, housing, garments, recreation, ceremonies, and funeral customs. He wrote biographical sketches of tribal leaders, and his material, in most cases, is the only recorded history.”

  19. Debbie Reese says:

    Re a Cherokee born in a tipi on a reservation in Oklahoma… These are really complicated questions. There were no reservations in Oklahoma. That area went from being Indian Territory over which several distinct Indian Nations had jurisdiction, to being the state of Oklahoma.

    I am trying to make sense of Thompson’s statement that she was a full blooded Cherokee. You can’t look at her physical appearance and say that she is or is not. How one looks is not a determining factor. For the Cherokees, one must be able to trace their family line to the Dawes rolls.

    Thompson was an adult when she left Oklahoma. Perhaps she was estranged from her Cherokee family or, for one reason or another, was not raised amongst them. If she was, she likely would know they did not have a reservation. She would know, however, that she was Cherokee. The “full blood” part is kind of weak. But, the claim itself is not.

    So… not knowing much about her Cherokee identity, she went off to California and later in life said she was Cherokee, born on a reservation in a tipi. That sounds like the sort of identity that a lot of people who lost touch with their family/tribe/nation say. My read of her statement is a lot like someone claiming their grandmother was a Cherokee “princess.” It is a fascinating case.

  20. Debbie Reese says:

    I also want to note that I am not belittling her claim. A lot of people chose to hide their Native identity in order to protect themselves from various oppressive measures. As lives unfolded, others became disconnected from their tribal nations, but knowledge of that identity remained amongst the stories the family told about its roots. These brutal histories are part of what makes me very critical of people who KNOW they’re not Native, yet claim that they are, because they know the claim will garner them benefits. Going all the way back to Jonathan’s question about The Great Death, written by John Smelcer, Smelcer is amongst the latter. On the other hand, I think Penny Pollock is amongst the former.

  21. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Okay, I picked up the library copy today.

    1. I could be wrong, but my understanding is that the headdress featured in the Klamath picture is characteristic of Plains Indians, not those from the Pacific Northwest. I do agree therefore that the picture and the accompanying Seattle speech do present a romanticized view of American Indians. Publishing houses will often have staff assist in photo research, but Marrin would still have the final say. Both gaffes probably also made it through a vetting process.

    2. There are actually two Indians in traditional dress: Seattle and Florence Owens Thompson. Since the Thompson photo does not scream American Indian (as Debbie mentioned, there’s no way to tell based on her appearance), it’s also possible that some of the other pictures unwittingly feature American Indians in modern dress, too.

    3. Debbie, you are kinder than Marrin when assessing blame for the Dust Bowl. On page 60, he says: All the elements for disaster came together in the 1930s: drought, heat, sod-destroying farming methods, annual cash crops . . . the dust-storm catastrophe of the 1930s was no natural disaster. It was manmade.” Drought and heat are parts of the natural weather cycle, but the lifestyle of the Plains Indians, being so dependent on the buffalo, did not exacerbate the occasional weather problems.

    The destructive farming and ranching methods were introduced by the white settlers NOT the American Indians. These methods are discussed extensively in the text, including the following portion which you read (pages 25-27) . . .

    By the 1880s, ranching flourished on the southern and northern plains, but at great cost to the environment. Despite the buffalo’s vast numbers, they did not damage the grasslands. The roaming herds ate the grass, dropped their dung, and moved on to fresh pasture. Their manure fertilized the soil. Their sharp hooves broke the ground, letting in air and moisture. The shape of a buffalo’s jaw allowed it to bite only to a few inches above the ground, so the grass recovered quickly. It was as if nature had designed the buffalot to preserve the grasslands.

    Cattle were different. For one, they could not move on, but had to graze in a confined space. This meant that, over time, their hooves compacted the soil, reducing its ability to absorb and hold water. Instead of sinking into the hardened ground, rainwater ran off, causing erosion–that is, the gradual wearing away of the soil. Also, cattle have jaws designed to bite grasses down to their roots, never allowing the plants to recover.

    4. Not to excuse Marrin’s mistakes, but if you read the entire book you can really see how the Seattle quote is such an apt and fitting conclusion to the book, both in terms of the veracity of the message its source.

    5. Regarding the Anasazi, the sidebar is particularly about Mesa Verde National Park which Marrin claims in the next sentence “remained untouched until modern times.” Surely, you’re not suggesting that the Pueblo have inhabited Mesa Verde continuously . . .

    6. Still wondering about the Hopi Snake Dance . . .

  22. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Debbie, the thing is that Nina said what she appreciates about your blog is that you always look at the subject matter and not the author, but in the case of John Smelcer, I don’t recall you ever discussing the subject matter (whether it was accurate or not), but rather just the author and the controversy about him. I’m not saying that’s not important. I’d certainly expect to read about that on your blog, but I’d also expect to read about how inaccurate the subject matter is–and I never got that.

    Does the controversy over his tribal identity color his work? That’s a good question and one that we’ve asked before. Does an author’s personal shortcomings affect our view of his/her literary work? We’ve certainly had this discussion before (Michael Dorris, for example) and I’m sure we’ll have it again.

  23. Nina,

    I am sorry I was cryptic, but thank you for unpacking what I said correctly. I did feel that anon1 had dragged in the pc term. Even if she then supported her argument that Reese’s criticisms were weak, I wish she hadn’t accused them of being *too pc.*

    However, Jean Mendoza’s response disturbed me more. Calling out Anons is rapidly evolving into a way to shut down dissent in any argument online. Anon1 is being dismissive of Reese and in response Mendoza offers a blanket rejection of anyone who comments anonymously.

    I’m glad you welcome anonymous comments. I think they make the conversation better.

  24. Debbie Reese says:

    Jonathan asked “Does the controversy over his tribal identity color his work?”

    The answer depends on your viewpoint. I stand firmly rooted in who I am as a tribally enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe whose ancestors fought like hell to protect us from those who wanted to wipe us out and take what we had.

    For me, then, claims to Native identity do matter. Some are, in my view, especially troubling. Case in point, Smelcer. On his website, he tells us that stories he tells in TRAP and DEATH are based on real events experienced by the family who adopted him. He tells us that those individuals approved of his manuscripts but that they died before the books actually came out. That gives me pause. All we have to go on is his word, and his word on other matters is pretty shady. I suggest you go to his website and see all the endorsements he’s gotten from major writers around the world. That alone strikes me as questionable. Beyond that, however, he deceived people at the University of Alaska. Knowing all that, I just can’t pick up his work.

    (And re Hopi Snake Dance, I’m working on a response to that.)

    Like Jean Mendoza, I prefer to state who I am because I think knowing who I am helps people understand why I respond in the ways that I do. I also find use of the term “pc” problematic and am glad Nina addressed it.

    The “Seattle quote” is not Seattle’s words. If I’ve misspoken above, I apologize. That speech is not Seattle’s. The man being imagined (Seattle) isn’t even Seattle! It is someone’s conception of what an Indian man named Seattle might have said. It’s a fiction. It is what is widely known in American Indian Studies as “the white man’s Indian.” That “white man’s Indian” is a device used to make a certain point. It can elevate “Indian” to a pedestal, as in this case, or it can be used to motivate action or frame “other” as savage-to-be-feared. The just-plain-human-Indians are obscured by “the white man’s Indian.” That brings me back to Indians on the Plains. Some of those farmers in the photos Marrin used might, as Jonathan notes, be Indian people, but are not identified as such. My point is that Marrin COULD have looked in archives and found photographs of Indian people of that period and used THOSE photographs.

    Yes, the destructive farming and ranching methods were introduced by white settlers, but, who used them? Did Owens use them? Did other Indian farmers use them? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I think, given the government’s programs to turn Indians into farmers and ranchers, it is plausible to think that the Indian farmers and ranchers may have used similar farming techniques, and, they certainly had cattle, too, as did the white ranchers. Saying all of that does not take away from their status as Indian Nations. It does, however, tell you that Indians of that time period were not the romantic and heroic beings suggested in the photographs that Marrin shows. Of course, there were and are spiritual leaders, but again, a lot of the photographs Curtis took were posed/staged, so they aren’t reliable as authentic portrayals of the people who he presents them to be.

  25. Debbie Reese says:

    Following up on comments I made on my blog (click on the link Jonathan provided above to see what I said) about Marrin’s use of Snake Dance photos… I’ve talked with Matt. He and I have talked many times about how our people work to protect our sacred ceremonies from being exploited.

    The Hopi Nation has a secular office whose purpose is to inform the public about Hopi concerns around exploitation. To see their website, search using “HCPO” and “Policy and Research.” (HCPO stands for Hopi Cultural Preservation Office.)

    Of course, those pages are in response to violations and misuse that occurred when people went into the pueblos in the past, taking photographs. Take, for example, a woman named Kate Cory. She was from Illinois (sometimes it seems like some of the worst offenders have roots in Illinois). In the early 1900s she went out to Hopi. Her papers are now housed in the Leroy Eslow Collection at the Sharlot Hall museum in Arizona. The “Restrictions” on her collection reads: “The manuscripts of the Leroy Eslow collection are restricted to no photocopying or use in a publication. The photographs, particularly ceremonial photographs of the Hopi, are also restricted. No reproduction is allowed without the express written consent of Museum of Northern Arizona and the Hopi Tribe.” Of course, not all museums have such statements, nor will everyone agree with the wishes of the Hopi Nation. Once, I posted some of this on child_lit, and one reply (from Roger, maybe) asked how they would enforce their policy. We can frame that argument as one of enforcement, and we can argue about whether or not they can or should expect people to respect their policy. I choose to respect their policy.

  26. I think it would be interesting to hear about the strengths of this book, which I haven’t read yet, because obviously with three starred reviews it must have many strengths.

    Debbie, I noticed your comment about this book on the Shelf Talker’s post listing starred reviews. I’ve said this before, but want to point out again: you say “Marrin made some serious errors that none of the journals noticed.” “Didn’t mention” isn’t the same thing as “didn’t notice”. Reviews have limited space, even if reviewers didn’t have limited knowledge in specific subject areas. That’s exactly what blogs like yours are FOR.

    I’d be interested in more discussion about the list of starred-review books and how they do or don’t match up with Newbery buzz.

  27. Debbie Reese says:

    Thanks, Wendy. I did mean “notice” rather than “mention.”

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