Wednesday, February 14, 2018


"Did I say that?"
Inspired by the quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Also often seen as “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” I ask you, did he really say that? Certainly for many of us he did practice what he preached. But let's use the possibility that history and the capturing of truth does have elements like the “telephone game” and can change to suit the needs/rhetoric of the time.

I ask you to consider this possibility because the next collage that I am sharing with you is a collage that almost didn't happen. Sometimes it seems that there are so many injustices in our world. How do we right the wrongs of the past and make changes that bring about fairness and equity to all? The good news is that there are many ways. For the time, forget about the small amount of people that don’t believe in this ideal and start this minute in positive ways to make changes in the life you lead.

Visit your library or shop your local indie bookstore.
In my post today, I talk about a major way educators, caregivers and parents can present and use materials to be that change (regardless of who said it). I will use my collage of the damaged book Brother Eagle, Sister Sun by Susan Jeffers as an example. The illustrations by award winning illustrator Susan Jeffers are stunning. She has created many memorable picture books and her artwork is nothing short of amazing. Brother Eagle, Sister Sun is beautifully illustrated and topical in its environmental message. Released in 1991 by the American Division of Dial Books, it received the ABBY Book of the Year Award given by the American Booksellers Association. 

Well intentioned to be sure, the criticisms that follow the book are to be considered, debated (in an upper elementary, middle or high school classroom) and help form your own benchmark for what makes meaning going forward. Let’s start our discussion with Chief Seattle and his words as they are presented in Jeffer's book. These words were translated and rewritten over time and while the Suquamish Indian tribe and Chief Seattle undoubtedly did not agree with the non-natives' intrusion and destruction of the land, the original words of the great chief were thought to be much more about the desecration of the Indian people’s way of life in a land that no one could own. As further evidence of a common misconception and rewriting of the Chief's oration, I have pictured a greeting card that I purchased some years ago. Jeffer’s is criticized further for her after note claiming that “The origins of Chief Seattle’s words are partly obscured by the mists of time. “ Seattle is an important person to study and we can learn much from the Suquamish People today. You may also want to read the 1854 Oration version 1. Chief Seattle was not talking about environmentalism.

Other areas of criticism are the pictures themselves. Jeffers is accused of perpetuating racial stereotypes. A few of the claims include; Chief Seattle wearing a Sioux headdress,  subsequent photos that tell the “story” are of indigenous people on horseback (click here for history and culture), and in addition to the Caucasian boy featured on the cover, a Caucasian family rescues the destroyed forest by planting a tree. 

16 x 20 (frame not shown)
There are many teachable moments in Brother Eagle, Sister Sky that I challenge you to not cast this book aside but rather raise your awareness by it’s use. Some present day sites continue to suggest using the book for "environmental awareness" but I'm not so sure that is appropriate. I selected to share this collage at a time when we as a society are questioning truth. There were quite a few times while researching this book that I thought I should not make this collage. Ironically, in all my years of teaching it was a book on my shelf but I never taught with it. Now, I offer a solution that we not destroy and hide our mistakes, but rather learn and grow by properly vetting and
Identity Close Up
discussing our own prejudices, historical inaccuracies and pledge to “right the wrongs” of our collective pasts. While it is difficult to capture in a photograph the nuances of my collages, you will hopefully see that I deviated from some of my "rules" to finish this collage. In this collage I did not use a "
précis" of the book but rather found words and sentences that described how indigenous people were victimized, persecuted and betrayed. My main focus however was identity. I found a wonderful VIEWPOINT in Native Peoples magazine (NOV/DEC 2001) written by Taffy Gallagher on the theft of one's identity. In her piece, Ms. Gallagher recounted a grade school encounter with another student that claimed, "You're Not Indian." Ms. Gallagher's green eyes and light skin did not add up to "Indian" for her classmate. I have woven some of the sentences from her piece in to the collage as well as other words from Native Peoples magazine and a 1991 edition of National Geographic which featured "1491 America Before Columbus." 

American Indians in Children's Literature is a great resource. If you have specific questions or issues with my piece, please inbox me. This was one of the hardest collages I almost didn’t do. 

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