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lianna williamson
07-24-2015, 05:40 PM
I am beginning work on an Alternate Historical Fantasy (set in New England c.1850), and one of my my four main characters is Native American. This is new territory for me: I haven't read a lot of depictions of Native Americans in fiction (by Native American OR white authors), but I am positive I have absorbed a whole bunch of clichés from popular culture. I don't want to create a character that's just a walking bundle of tropes, and I do plan to interview some Native American activists at my local college about what they feel is missing from depictions of Native Americans in fiction by white authors.

All that said, I could use your help as well. :)

1) What are the tropes and clichés re:Native American characters? I have my own idea of what they are, but I want to get as many perspectives as possible as I begin to build this character, and his family and community.

2) What books (fiction and non) would you recommend I read, either for excellent, nuanced depictions of Native Americans OR as examples of what not to do?

All perspectives and recommendations appreciated.

ericalynn
07-24-2015, 06:07 PM
Some resources for you:

1. http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/lit_resources/diversity/native_am/teaching/native_resources.html
(This is part of the website of Cynthia Leitich Smith, who is a young adult author and a tribal member of the Muscogee [Creek] Nation. You could read her books & check out the resources that she has here.)

2. http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/
(Dr. Debbie Reese is a Nambe Pueblo Indian and her website has lots of great information. She gives a lot of examples of positive depictions of Native Americans in literature, as well as gives critical reviews of books/authors who haven't gotten it right.)

Hope those help! The best advice I could give is to get a knowledgable beta reader & fact checker somewhere in the process who can help you see something offensive, etc. that you might have overlooked.

Liosse de Velishaf
07-24-2015, 07:49 PM
I'd suggest research. This is a historical, set in 1850 in a specific area, so while avoiding general cultural cliches is important, the easiest way to do so is to research the specific group your character is from and stick close to that. A Native American in New England in 1850 is going to be a very different character from, say, someone descended from the Plains Indians in 2015. It might be useful to note that a lot of the cliches of Native Americans in American culture come from the Plains tribes during the great westward expansion. Tipis and such. I don't know that we have a lot of nation-wide stereotypes based on the Algonquin and Iroquois, though there may be a few.

https://www.umb.edu/naisa/tribes Some basic info on several New England peoples.


(I'm not an expert on Native Americans, so take anything I say with a grain of salt.)

shakeysix
07-24-2015, 08:09 PM
"Black Elk Speaks"-Neihardt--full of tropes and cliches but good reading. Hanta Yo--Ruth Beebe Hill--also criticized as inaccurate and harder to read. In fact I'd call it melatonin in print form. Anything by George Eastman will be entertaining and historically accurate. I really like his personality. He seems to me to have been intelligent, witty, good with a thumbnail description, wise and empathetic with a sense of humor. He is criticized because he turned white. Everything you are going to read will have two sides. Keep an open mind and read the crits as well.--s6

backslashbaby
07-25-2015, 12:07 AM
The time period is difficult, because what might be an offensive trope today would have been more true back then, like parts of the 'mystical' sorts of tropes. Parts of what is offensive about how people see Native Americans is that they picture things many generations in the past.

So while you note what is offensive, also don't modernize your character too much or that wouldn't make any sense.

What is your main character's role and what's he like? That helps narrow down the advice considerably. There are probably too many tropes to mention!

cmhbob
07-25-2015, 02:19 AM
I repped ericalynn, but I wanted to thank her publicly too. I'm working on a story that's going to center on a couple of Cherokee characters around Okay and Tahelequah, and she's pointed me to some just terric resources. I've spent the entire afternoon reading through both links, and they're going to be a hug help, especially Debbie Reese's stuff.

Pony.
07-25-2015, 07:29 AM
Pretty much anything from Sherman Alexi would be a good read. He doesnt put any sugar coating on his depictions of rez life, the movie "Smoke signals" was from one of his books.

kuwisdelu
07-25-2015, 09:59 AM
Pretty much anything from Sherman Alexi would be a good read. He doesnt put any sugar coating on his depictions of rez life, the movie "Smoke signals" was from one of his books.


Specifically, it's based on "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" from the collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

kuwisdelu
07-25-2015, 10:00 AM
Some resources for you:

1. http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/lit_resources/diversity/native_am/teaching/native_resources.html
(This is part of the website of Cynthia Leitich Smith, who is a young adult author and a tribal member of the Muscogee [Creek] Nation. You could read her books & check out the resources that she has here.)

2. http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/
(Dr. Debbie Reese is a Nambe Pueblo Indian and her website has lots of great information. She gives a lot of examples of positive depictions of Native Americans in literature, as well as gives critical reviews of books/authors who haven't gotten it right.)

Hope those help! The best advice I could give is to get a knowledgable beta reader & fact checker somewhere in the process who can help you see something offensive, etc. that you might have overlooked.

Seconding (thirding?) these resources.

bombergirl69
07-25-2015, 06:00 PM
And a vote for an old article by Tracey Bos (I think?) from 2001 or so, called Native Americans in Literature or something. I have not googled it recently but speaks to that exact topic, as I remember asks pretty thoughtful questions, and also lists books that are good and ones to avoid.

I always recommend James Welsh, a Blackfeet author, in particular Fool's Crow, for awesome historical fiction. Louise Erdich, of course. As far as white people getting it right, I really wonder about this, but I think Yes is Better Than No, by Byrd Baylor, which actually is right on this topic, is thought to be pretty good. She really gets at the stereotypes, including sexualization, although she is talking about social workers! Written in the 70s and probably still uses "Papago" for Tohono O'odham though. My Tohono professor at social work school required it for his Diversity class, whatever that says.
Such a good topic.

Pony.
07-25-2015, 06:42 PM
Specifically, it's based on "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" from the collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
'Sin Eaters' was my favorite out that book.

Sargentodiaz
07-25-2015, 07:03 PM
Probably one of the best overall sites about American and Canadian Indians @ http://www.native-languages.org/languages.htm

Liosse de Velishaf
07-25-2015, 08:51 PM
Wow, these are some fantastic resources. I'm not writing any native characters at the moment, but I've been reading these links anyway.

ericalynn
07-26-2015, 01:01 AM
I repped ericalynn, but I wanted to thank her publicly too. I'm working on a story that's going to center on a couple of Cherokee characters around Okay and Tahelequah, and she's pointed me to some just terric resources. I've spent the entire afternoon reading through both links, and they're going to be a hug help, especially Debbie Reese's stuff.


Glad I could help!