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Libraries Commemorate American Indian Heritage Month


November is National American Indian Heritage month. To talk about this celebration, as well as some books by and about Native Americans, we have Loriene Roy, the president of the American Library Association. Loriene is Anishinabe and a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, enrolled on the White Earth Reservation. She's also a professor at the University of Texas in Austin and a frequent visitor to our program. Loriene joins us from member station KUT in Austin.

Loriene, welcome back.

Professor LORIENE ROY (University of Texas, Austin; President, American Library Association): Well thank you, Michel. It's good to be back.

MARTIN: So tell us, why is November National American Indian Heritage month?

Prof. ROY: Well, native people live every day as indigenous people in the world, but to a lot of people in the United States who are non-Native, they think of Indians in November because of Thanksgiving.

MARTIN: And so is that why it's November, because thanksgiving is kind of - I don't know what you call it - a news peg?

Prof. ROY: I think so. It's a family gathering, and for native people, they observe it often as also a family gathering, though for some Native people, it's also a day of mourning.

MARTIN: This is a question, I think, that confuses a lot of people when they want to do the right thing. Between American Indian and Native American, is there a preference?

Prof. ROY: That's a very common question. There was a recent report that came out this summer that just indicated that non-native people call native people Native American, and American Indians call themselves American Indians. Native American, Indian, indigenous - those all work for me as well as my tribal name, Anishinabe - my tribal community.

MARTIN: Okay. All right. Well, thank you for that. And I think that the importance of considering works by and for American Indians - Native Americans this month is that, you know, what qualities are you looking for in recommending a book?

Prof. ROY: Well, I look for cultural specificity. For example, does a book really indicate a specific tribal community? Can we place the people in the book in a certain locale? Can we identify them with a certain cultural community?

A second thing I look at, if it's a book placed in history, does it reflect historical facts? And then a third, does it bring those historical facts and those historical people to the present?

There's sometimes, there's a tendency to refer to Native people in the past. We'd like to remind people we're still around. We're still alive, and Native people live in the modern society, as well as observe often traditional life ways.

MARTIN: Let's start with the youngest readers. What are some books that you could recommend to the youngest readers?

Prof. ROY: Well, there's a new book that I've found called "When the Shad Bush Blooms," and it's by Carla Messenger with Susan Katz. And that book is a story that takes place both yesterday and today. It is a story of the cultural life ways of the Lenni Lenape communities.

And in one page of the two-paged spread, you see that community in historic times, and in the opposing page, the right hand side, that you'll see the same community living today. So it's a nice message throughout the pages. That would be for, let's say a young audience - kindergarten through second, but could be used as a teaching tool in older levels.

The National Museum of the American Indian also has some terrific online exhibits, that you don't have to visit the museum to enjoy those. There are several books that I have that have been produced, co-published by the National Museum of the American Indian.

One of them for adults and educators is "Do All Indians Live in Tipis?" And those are questions and answers that have come to the staff at the National Museum of the American Indian. And you'll find answers to question such as what are tribal colleges? How does someone become a tribal chief? And do Native Americans still ride horses?

MARTIN: Okay. Good to know. What about for middle schoolers?

Prof. ROY: Well, there are a couple books I have in mind. One is - I'm a big fan of Louise Erdrich. She's Anishinabe, and she's written a book called "The Birchbark House." She places the history of a young Anishinabe girl in the mid-19th century. And that would be a good book for a good reader at second grade, but also in to adult years.

There's also Tim Tingle's book, "Walking the Choctaw Road: Stories from Red People Memory," and that's published by Cinco Puntos Press. And that's a nice collection of scary stories - stories about removal, stories about people he knew and encountered. So that would be, I think, a good family read.

MARTIN: Okay, what about the older reader - high school, college, the adult reader?

Prof. ROY: Well, Sherman Alexie has a new book out that's being touted as his young adult novel, and it's called "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." And it was just published in 2007, and I just picked up a copy on Saturday, and it's delightful. And it's funny, and it's real native in its connection to a lot of things that contemporary native young people would like. It's autobiographical.

It's a story of a young man referred to as Junior, who is living on the Spokane Indian Reservation, but decides to go off reservation to high school, and the first Indian to go into this affluent high school so that he can have other choices in life and also become a star basketball player.

MARTIN: So what's on tap for you this month? Do you have any extra responsibilities for National American Indian Heritage month, in addition to your normal ones?

Prof. ROY: Well, I gave the launch lecture at the Library of Congress last Friday for the national celebration. In addition, I'm going to a several state library conferences, one in Colorado, one in California, and I'm returning home to northern Minnesota to lead a community-wide discussion on "To Kill a Mockingbird."

MARTIN: Loriene Roy is president of the American Library Association. Loriene is an Anishinabe and a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. She's enrolled on the White Earth Reservation. She joined us from member station KUT in Austin, and we'll have links to all of the books that Loriene talked about on our Web site,

Loriene, thanks so much for joining us.

MARTIN: Oh, you're welcome, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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