Common Core Standards

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Crossing Borders

November. Thanksgiving. What does this bring to mind? Falling leaves, frost, winter? Turkey, family, eating? Now add to the end of those pyschopompish words-school kids. Ah! Pilgrims and Indians (American or Native Americans or First Nations). Why is it that it seems at this time of year Native Americans are mentioned most? Does it have to do with that first Thanksgiving and stereotypes?

I attended the Crossing Borders 33rd Annual Mary Calletto Rife Youth Literature Seminar on Nov. 5. (See last post) and was interested in what the guest speaker, Cynthia Leitich Smith, a tribal member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, had to say and how that relates to my work as an artist, author and illustrator. The focus of the seminar was helping readers undstand, appreciate and relate to others--the crossing of borders--from racial ro cultural to economic and more.

The final speaker of the day, Debbie Reese, who is tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico, gave us all valuable information regarding American Indians in children's lit. For more information see her site:

This talk not only interested me as an author/illustrator, but as a Michigander, long influenced and inspired by Michigan Native tales. As a child, I traveled to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park. The Odawa or Ojibwa legend, depending on who you talk to, sparked my 5 year old imagination as my brother and I posed in front of a gift shop next to a man in Plains regalia. (Notice that I said, "man", not warrior or brave, and "regalia" not costume.)

"Sleeping Bear:  The Legend" (detail) 2007, Lori Taylor
Since then, I have spent my life studying, reading, going to powwows, and talking and sharing with people about the Great Lakes Peoples and their stories. Heck, I grew up right here and spent my life running through the woods and waters of Michigan, how could I not try to understand the voices of the People and the land that I was raised on.

From artist, Frank Ettawageshick, to writer, Simon Otto, to a healing lodge in Ann Arbor and Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways, and more I have gleaned understanding from native teachings. Debbie gave us a great list of kid's books to read by Joseph Bruchac and Louise Erdrich and recommended the PBS, "We Shall Remain", for us all to understand their stories better.

I have studied the Sanilac Petroglyphs (I love the art there) and crawled across rock walls with Lake Superior at my back to see pictographs in Canada. These are images that speak with powerful emotion reaching out to touch others that witness them. As an artist, all art that speaks is art to be shared.

"Wisdom of the Elders: MAEOE Conference" 1993

Yesterday, I crossed the border--to Canada, to visit the Art Gallery of Windsor to see the Group of Seven exhibit of Canadian painters. Inserted in the exhibit was a piece from Canadian artist, Emily Carr. As I sketched her work, Yan Mortuary Poles, I realized that here was a Canadian artist, like me, with a strong desire to preserve the history or her home and the stories of its Peoples, as well as her love of the deep, dark coastal forests.

As a storyteller, I will continue to learn and tell these stories of my Michigan home in art and word. If these stories inspire and fire our imaginations for us to do great things for each other and care for our home--our land and waters--then is that not what those stories were preserved and intended for--to make a better place for all? I have learned alot in the past 30 years and I am thankful for the sharing of all Native stories of their home--which is my home and my grandchild's home.

November? Curling up at home--all of our homes, with good books and good stories!

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