Combatting Stereotypes against Native Peoples in Public School Libraries

By Cantrell, Jessica | CSLA Journal, Summer 2019 | Go to article overview

Combatting Stereotypes against Native Peoples in Public School Libraries


Cantrell, Jessica, CSLA Journal


Libraries are a collection of knowledge to be utilized to educate and share information with those of all ages. School libraries, most importantly, provide support for the education and growth of all students who set foot in them. This is ground zero for combatting misinformation and stereotypes. Combatting stereotypes is much more than weeding out harmful materials in a library. It is learning to recognize them in all forms, understanding how they affect peoples, confronting them, and revealing the real narrative behind them.

Native peoples of the United States have been stereotyped since first contact with European invaders. These stereotypes have led to the continual dehumanization of Native peoples. This structural block of colonialization is a tool to separate Native peoples from the average citizens; to make them a "peoples of the past", "extinct", the "environmental Indian", the "stoic Indian", or the "drunken Indian". These are all common stereotypes and no doubt that you have heard them before. You may have even assumed some of these to be true. The question we need to raise now is: how can we change this portrayal and fight back against the stereotypes that are ingrained into the very fabric of our nation's narrative?

First, we must learn to recognize a stereotype when we see it. Thinking critically and asking the right questions will help you recognize stereotypes within literature and in everyday life. When it comes to literature, we should ask questions such as:

* Who is the author of the book?

* Are they Native?

* Are they from the tribe they are writing about?

* Did the tribe they are writing about endorse the book?

* What types of words are they using to describe Native peoples; is this bias?

* When was the book written?

* What tense do they use, past or present?

* Are they tribally specific?

* Are they grouping all Native peoples together?

These questions most times are not easy to answer and are certainly time consuming to find. But in order combat these prevalent stereotypes, we must put in the time and energy.

Seek out those who make it their work to change these stereotypes. Many Native peoples are and have been investing their time, energy, and resources into challenging stereotypes that have plagued their communities for generations. These individuals are resources to the education community; seek them out, ask them the awkward and uncomfortable questions that you cannot Google search answers to. When we create a dialog we help each other sift through the misinformation and stereotypes.We find the true narrative of our history and our present.

This creation of dialog allows us to confront our own misconceptions and stereotypes that we might have about another group. Creating this dialog with students is important not just to change the narrative but to honor them with the truth. When working with local school librarians the question comes up of how can we start the conversations if we are pulling all of the books with inappropriate content from the shelves? Another question is what if a book only has one negative stereotype in it? …

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