This Christmas I hunted around for Native American stories for my niece and nephew. They are finally old enough to start asking questions about their culture and the color of grandpa’s skin. My dad is from the Band River Band of Chippewa at the very tip of Wisconsin. My brother and I are half Native, which makes my niece and nephew a quarter Native. We all tan pretty well.
To help the kids learn their heritage, I am reviewing Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Not surprisingly, I learned a lot from this collection of poems and short stories as well. In hindsight, I probably won’t give it to the kids until they are in middle school or at a higher reading level, but it was still a good read.
Many of the stories centered on Indian kids learning their culture through powwow celebrations and everyday life on the reservation, or elsewhere in the world. My brother and I didn’t grow up on the reservation like our dad did, but the stories still felt familiar and well-worn. I’ve been to many a powwow in my lifetime, but my niece and nephew have never seen one in person. Now they can learn the good, bad and ugly of Indian life from the safety of this book.
While some stories pass down traditional fancy dancing and our native languages, one of my favorite stories was told from the perspective of a reservation dog observing people in all their flawed and wonderful glory. If you’ve never heard of a reservation dog, nearly ever rez has got one. That dog that cannot and will not be owned by a single person. Rez dogs are cared for by and cares for all the people on the rez. Sort of like a library cat.
Even though some of these stories represent specific tribes, when you stack them all side-by-side, the similarities are unmistakable. Every language has a word for family, belonging, fear, loss, identity, and all those very human things. Having explored stories from around the world, all of our Ancestors must have all been talking to each other for a lifetime.
If you want to peer into the lives of dozens of Native cultures, try Ancestor Approved. Our history comes to life through story. These stories are real and refuse to be whitewashed.