Shedding Light on 20th Century Termination and Relocation Efforts with Indian No More
Indian No More
Written by Charlene Willing McManis, with Traci Sorell
Published by Tu Books, Lee and Low Books, 2019
“I was Indian even if I was Indian no more. Because I knew where I came from. Because I knew my Umpqua ancestors. And because I survived to tell their stories and mine. Like this one” (p. 168). Regina Petit, a fictional but autobiographical character based on author Charlene Willing McManis’s childhood experiences, concludes Indian No More with this assertion of her identity. But what caused her identity to be in jeopardy? It’s 1957, and Regina and her family have relocated from the Grand Ronde Tribe reservation in Oregon to Los Angeles because the tribe has been terminated by the federal government. This poignant and powerful story of family and identity provides readers with an exploration of a less-well-known period of U.S. history and federal policy in the mid-20th century. Adjusting to life in the city is not simple, and Regina and her family are forced to consider their own identities in the context of the diverse families around them and the powerful media images that reinforce racial and ethnic stereotypes as well as white middle class norms through television shows, advertisements, and movies. Ultimately, Regina is able to see her own challenges as part of a continuum of displacement and resistance: her Umpqua ancestors had to leave their homeland to live on the Grand Ronde Reservation and her grandmother overcame the forced assimilation of the U.S. government boarding school system. A note for readers about the Chinuk Wawa language of the Confederate Tribes of Grand Ronde and a brief glossary of Chinuk Wawa words appears at the beginning of the novel. Within the back matter is a Definitions section that includes a conversation about the use of the word Indian as part of the historical setting of the novel, followed by an Author’s Note by Charlene Willing McManis of the Umpqua tribe, a Co-Author’s note by Traci Sorell of the Cherokee Nation, who finished the novel’s revisions upon McManis’s passing, and an Editor’s Note by Elise McMullen-Ciotti, also of the Cherokee nation. Educators should note that the authors use the “n” word in dialogue in chapter seventeen. Ideal for explorations of family, friendship, and identity, the impact of federal policies generationally on Native Americans, and the process by which we claim our own identities, Indian No More will linger in the hearts and minds of readers.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Develop Your Background Knowledge as an Educator. To learn more about the federal policies that drive Regina Petit’s family’s decisions, and to better understand the context of the novel, read “How America’s Past Shapes Native Americans’ Present,” from the October 12, 2016 issue of The Atlantic. American Public Media has a multimodal article with a 50-minute audio recording entitled “Uprooted: The 1950’s Plan to Erase Indian Country” that is both powerful and detailed. You might also want to explore the resources in our September 2019 entry on An Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People.
“The Beaver and the Coyote.” Towards the end of the novel, when Regina’s grandmother Chich falls ill, she asks Regina to tell her an Umpqua story while they await an ambulance. When Regina asks which one, Chich requests “The Beaver and the Coyote.” A full text version of the story is provided in the back matter. Have students read the story before reading Indian No More. Ask them to interpret the meaning of the story. Have students return to the story again after Regina tells it to Chich. Why do they think Chich wanted Regina to tell that story at that particular moment? What does the story mean to Regina? To Chich? To your students? What does this moment in the novel reveal about the power of storytelling? What role does the oral tradition have in the transmission of culture across generations?
Learning More About the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde. Can your students visualize the Grande Ronde Reservation where the Petits live at the start of the novel? Allow students to learn more about the tribes and nations that became a part of the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde by exploring the resources on their official website. Have some students explore the Confederated Tribes’ history, including termination and restoration, while others explore culture and art, and still others the current services and resources the Tribes provide members.
Learning More About 1950s Los Angeles. Can your students visualize the Los Angeles of 1957 that greets Regina and her family? Ask students what they think they know about the 1950s as a decade. Then ask them to consider how they think they know that. What are their sources? Next, share some photographs and videos of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Conservancy has an article on architectural trends in Modernism, with links to photographs of specific buildings. Students can also search for photos from the 1950s using resources from the Los Angeles Historical Society photo collection. You can also share selected photos from the Getty Images collection. As always, preview any photographs you will share.
Text Set on Mid-Century Transitions and Migrations. Allow your students to self-select novels that speak to children and families in transition in the post-World War II era of the mid-20th century. Students can choose between historical novels such as Indian No More, Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, Fire from the Rock by Sharon Draper, 90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis, and Countdown by Deborah Wiles. Allow students to discuss their books via book club format, but provide opportunities for jigsawed groups to come together to compare and contrast the identities and experiences of their protagonists, the tensions of each particular setting, and the commonalities they share. To extend this experience, you might want to invite family and community members into your classroom to discuss their experiences as children and teens in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Writing Someone Else’s Story. When your students complete reading Indian No More, make sure that they also read the extensive back matter. Ask students to consider how the back matter helps them to better understand the story and the co-authors’ intentions. What connections can they make between author Charlene Willing McManis’s life and the fictional Regina’s? What do they learn from Traci Sorell’s Co-Author’s Note about the research that was required to revise the story about a Native American outside of her own nation? What do they learn about the book production process from Elise McMullen-Ciotti in the Editor’s Note? Have students compare and contrast the information in this back matter with information in the back matter of other historical novels. How does this back matter explain a particular process about representing someone else’s story? From these comparisons, what are some research, writing, and book production “how tos” for historical fiction that your students can identify? How do they believe authors should approach research and writing historical fiction that may include characters from cultures not their own?
Documenting the Legacy of Relocation. Pamela J. Peters is a Los Angeles-based Navajo filmmaker. Peters created a short film, “Exiled NDNZ” that looks back to the arrival of Native Americans in Los Angeles in the 1950s due to federal relocation policies, and illuminates the experiences of contemporary Native American young adults in Los Angeles. As students are reading Indian No More, show them the three-minute video Peters created as part of fundraising efforts towards a longer-length film on the same subject. Ask students to identify the themes that come through this short video that also surface in the novel. What new questions do they have? How does this film help them to further consider the legacy of relocation?
Termination and Relocation in Your Area. After reading Indian No More, ask your students what questions they have about the federal policies discussed in the novel and in the back matter. To answer those questions, use resources in the Further Explorations area below, and curate age-appropriate local resources with the support of your school or local librarian, your local history museum or historical society, and/or the Native nations/tribes in your region on the impact of federal termination and relocation policies on the Native American nations and tribes in your community. You may also learn more about termination and relocation through the resources curated in the Teachers Guide created by Lee and Low Books. What tribes/nations were terminated? Restored? What members of other Native American tribes or nations came to your city or a city near you during this period? Who still remains? You might work in a school that has a large Native American population and you yourself may be able to speak to this history as part of your family history. Or, you may not be Native American and/or live in a region where the Native American population is small. If possible, invite Native American members of your community to speak to students about their childhood experiences with termination and relocation. Have students take what they have learned about this time and write nonfiction picture books for younger readers on this topic. To support students’ creation of nonfiction picture books, draw upon NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award backlist as a resource for nonfiction mentor texts.
Understanding Dual Citizenship. Native Americans are dual citizens – of their tribe first and then also of the United States, because their tribe lies within the country’s boundaries. This concept of dual citizenship may be unknown or unclear to some of your students. Have students read this article from the National Constitution Center about the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.
Names and Naming. As Regina gets to know her new neighbors Addie and Keith, the first African Americans she’s ever met, and Anthony and Philip Hernadez, the first Cubans she’s ever met, she realizes that they share some commonalities. Addie reveals that Anthony and Philip aren’t their real names, and Keith explains that “[t]hey changed them to make it easier for teachers to say in school” (p. 60). Regina shares: “the government made our elders change their names too. The Indian agent couldn’t say them right.” Regina does not remember her family’s “real names,” and Keith tells her that “Petit isn’t an American name” (p. 61). Are your students surprised to learn that Native American family names were changed? Do they know and understand the legacy of naming in the United States? How do they feel about it? Have students discuss the ways in which the government or individuals change names in order to be accepted as “American.” Have students ask their parents, guardians, or extended family the history of their family names, and if, when, how, and why the names has been changed over the years. Recognize that some students’ names may be rooted in the legacy of slavery, while others may have had their family names changed generations ago. Students who have recently arrived in the United States may have fresh memories of such name changes, and may be more or less comfortable in participating in this conversation as a result.
Fighting Stereotypes. When Regina first meets Keith and Addie, they are very excited to have “real” Indians living in their neighborhood. But as the book unfolds, it is clear that their understanding of Indian identity is based on the pop culture images provided to them via television shows and movies. Keith and Addie are confused when Regina does not have bows and arrows or know how to make a tipi. Regina does not understand why Keith and Addie think she should. She then begins to absorb a new notion of what it means to be an Indian based on the pop culture (mis)representations to which she is exposed via television. Have students discuss the ways in which they have seen racial, cultural, and religious identities stereotyped in pop culture in the forms of Halloween costumes, advertising, sports mascots, television shows, and movies. What do students think can be done about these stereotypes? What actions can they take to make change? Have students do research in small groups. You might want to consider having local college students studying business and marketing and/or representatives from a local marketing or advertising business to join them, to talk about these issues with your students. Students can then follow-up with requests for change aimed at specific businesses that use stereotypes in their advertising or schools that have mascots based on stereotypes.
Welcoming Newcomers in Your Community. Upon arriving at their house on 58th Place, Regina and her family learn to adjust to a city life, a new school, a new state, and a new culture. But they don’t make that transition on their own. The families within the neighborhood make them feel welcome, share their knowledge and resources, and help them adapt. In turn, the Petit family shares their knowledge and resources with their neighbors. What can your students do to help newcomers feel more welcome in your community? Have your students brainstorm the various ways in which they can make new students in your school and/or larger community feel welcome. Work with your building principal and community leaders to help students actualize a “Welcome Program.”
Proud versus Poor. In chapter 15, Regina reflects upon her experience of having dinner at the Bates’s home, where there was matching furniture, fresh-cut flowers, and professional photographs of the family on the wall. Regina is aware that her African American neighbors, thanks to Mr. Bates’s job at the post office, have achieved a certain level of economic stability. She thinks back to her house on the reservation, which “wasn’t glamorous,” but was definitely “comfy” (p. 88). “The house had almost always smelled of baking bread, huckleberry or blackberry pies, and stews. The old wood stove churned up enough heat to keep everyone warm. I knew we were poor in Grand Ronde, but I hadn’t felt poor. I’d felt proud. But I didn’t feel that way on 58th Place” (p. 89). Ask students to explore what Regina says here and interrogate the role of setting on her feelings. Why does Los Angeles feel so different compared to Grand Ronde?
Claiming American Identity. Throughout the novel, Regina watches as her father claims and reclaims his American identity, in addition to his Umpqua identity. She sees his faith in the federal government and the promise of upward mobility bolstered by his success at work. She also sees the damage done to her father’s identification as American when the Petit family is denied service at an upscale steak restaurant. Who is American? Who is not? Who decides? Why? How does this issue unfold in the book? How does this conversation about identity unfold in real life? Throughout its complicated history, America has prided itself for being a nation of immigrants and simultaneously resisted the arrival of new immigrants. What are the implications of the concept of a “nation of immigrants” for Native Americans, the people indigenous to North America long before the arrival of European invaders or the continent being named that? Some Americans were brought here in bondage through the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Some Americans fled political upheaval, violence, and a lack of opportunity in their home nations. Refugees fleeing war continue to arrive in America today, alongside immigrants looking for financial opportunity and the stability of a democratic society. After completing the novel and discussing the issue in Regina’s world in 1957, have your students consider what makes someone American today. You might want to explore poems about the concept of America curated on the webpage of the Academy of American Poets. After having students consider the ideas within the novel and the various poems you’ve shared, have students write about the ways that they see themselves as American, something else, or a combination of identities. Create a class photo essay that combines student writing and photographs. Students can take portraits of one another or of objects that make them think about their identity(ies). Consider that some students, such as those who have undocumented family members or may be undocumented themselves, may resist being photographed for such a project.
Draper, S. (2007). Fire from the rock. Speak.
Flores-Galbis, E. (2012). 90 miles to Havana. Square Fish.
Kadohata, C. (2004). Kira-Kira. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Wiles, D. (2010). Countdown. Scholastic.
About Mary Ann Cappiello
Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.
SLJ Blog Network