At the turn of the century, the effort to have a time for honoring the first Americans began with Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian. He rode valiantly from state to state seeking approval for such a day, delivering 24 proclamations to the White House on December 14th, 1914. The first American Indian Day was declared in May the flowing year by the governor of New York. But it took 75 more years for them to get the recognition they deserve. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush decreed November Native American Heritage month. We’re honoring our shared heritage all month here at BCPL, including our annual Native American Heritage Day celebration on November 18th. Each tribe has its own rich culture and stories worth celebrating. Here are my five favorite Native American folktales for you to check out:
1.The Mud Pony retold by Caron Lee Cohen, and Illustrated by Shonto Begay
The Pawnee tribes of the Plains have many stories of ordinary boys turned heroes, and this is just one of those. The story is of a poor boy who more than anything wants a pony of his own. He makes one out of mud and cares for it as if it were real. One day, the boy’s tribe leaves without him to find buffalo, leaving him all alone. After crying himself to sleep, he dreams that his pony is alive and speaks to him. Upon waking, he sees that his dream has come true! His pony tells him that he is a gift from Mother Earth, and will someday be a chief among his people. This book is the result of careful research on the part of Cohen, who holds a doctorate in folklore and children’s literature. Illustrator Begay is one of sixteen children of a Navajo medicine man and impressionist artist.
2. Raven by Gerald McDermott
The Caldecott is awarded yearly for the most distinguished picture book, and McDermott’s distinctive art and beautiful writing has won three times! This tale from the Pacific Northwest depicts the legend of how the raven stole the sun and gave light to the sky. This sort of origin story is called a porquoi tale, and is present in many cultures around the world. The raven is particularly important to the tribes of the northwest, and he is found frequently in totems, jewelry, and other artworks. A trickster, he has the ability to shapeshift, be both brave and cunning. You will surely love this book as I do, as well as the rest of McDermott’s works!
3. How Turtle’s Back Was Cracked retold by Gayle Ross, and illustrated
by Murv Jacob
Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love turtles. (My desk is covered in them!)
So, I just had to include a turtle story in this list. This traditional Cherokee tale is told by Gayle Ross, a professional storyteller and direct descendant of John Ross, Chief of the Cherokee Nation during the Trail of Tears. Intricate illustrations are done by award-winning painter Murv Jacob, a Kentucky Cherokee who frequently depicts animal tales of the Southeastern Indian cultures. In this story, turtle pays the price for his bragging at the hands of a pack of wolves. You’ll have to read it to find out just how.
4. The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin and illustrated by David Shannon
By far, my favorite on this list, and my first choice. The Algonquin telling of the Cinderella story is the most touching of the stories and speaks of inner beauty and the eye of the beholder. In a village on the shore of Lake Ontario lived a man and his three daughters. The youngest was made to tend to the fire, which, after time left her scarred and charred. All the girls in the village want to marry the Invisible Being, but his sister was very protective. She said that only the one who sees him may marry him. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it makes the Disney version seem underwhelming.
5. The Polar Bear Son retold and illustrated by Lydia Dabcovich
This one is a tear jerker! An old woman lives alone in an Inuit Village with no family to hunt or provide for her. She has to depend upon her neighbors for food. That is, until one day, she finds a polar bear cub without a family of his own. She brings him home and shares what little bit she has with him. The polar bear grows, hunts and fishes, bringing the old woman more than enough. It is her turn to share with the villagers. The hunters began to get angry and decided to kill the bear. Hearing of their plan, she does what any mother would do; urges him to run for his life. Don’t worry though, this one has a bittersweet ending that you’ll have to see to believe.
This is just a sampling, we have so many more for you to choose from. They can be found in Juvenile Non-Fiction, the magic number is 398.20897. And we hope you’ll join us for Native American Heritage Day on the Saturday, November 18 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Main Library, 1786 Burlington Pike in Burlington. Until next time…
Micha O’Connor is the Community Events Liaison for Youth Services and of distant Shawnee heritage. She enjoys a good drum circle and her favorite movie growing up was Pocahontas.
Watch Micha describe her favorite folk tales in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySsiJhCJlw4