Indian No More – Book Recommendation

Title: Indian No More

Authors: Charlene Willing McMannis and Traci Sorrell

 Publisher: Tu Books, 2019

Ages: 8-11

Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction

Themes: Native American Indians, Native American Month, #ownvoices, termination era, racism, Federal Indian Relocation Program

Opening:

Before being terminated. I was Indian.

Synopsis:

Regina Petit’s family has always been Umpqua, and living on the Grand Ronde reservation is all ten-year-old Regina has ever known. Her biggest worry is that Sasquatch may actually exist out in the forest. But when the federal government signs a bill into law that says Regina’s tribe no longer exists, Regina becomes “Indian no more” overnight–even though she was given a number by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that counted her as Indian, even though she lives with her tribe and practices tribal customs, and even though her ancestors were Indian for countless generations.

With no good jobs available in Oregon, Regina’s father signs the family up for the Indian Relocation program and moves them to Los Angeles. Regina finds a whole new world in her neighborhood on 58th Place. She’s never met kids of other races, and they’ve never met a real Indian. For the first time in her life, Regina comes face to face with the viciousness of racism, personally and toward her new friends.

Meanwhile, her father believes that if he works hard, their family will be treated just like white Americans. But it’s not that easy. It’s 1957 during the Civil Rights Era. The family struggles without their tribal community and land. At least Regina has her grandmother, Chich, and her stories. At least they are all together. (Publisher)

Why I like this book:

With a great opening line (see above), McManis introduces us to the first person POV of Regina and her PNW Umqua family and tribal roots. McManis includes lots of details of daily and family life and compares Regina’s Rez school with the public elementary school she now attends in L.A. Chich, (Regian’s grandma) often adds a deeper cultural perspective as do the inclusion of some Chinuk Wawa words in conversations (translated where necessary for clarity).

The racist incidents Regina and her family face in this novel are sadly too similar to the injustices Native Americans still face today. When Regina and her family relocate from Oregon to L.A., they leave everything familiar behind them to find themselves in a multicultural city and neighborhood surrounded by the dominant WASP culture. The new law means Regina is “Indian no more” and the family must become “Americans”… a strange concept to kids who are just beginning to understand their own identity. She discovers she isn’t Indian enough for her friends, but too ethnic for many others. It’s a slow journey toward the truth that different is not wrong.

This is a touching historical middle-grade novel drawn from author Charlene Willing McManis’s own tribal history, and co-written by a second Native Nations author. “Own voices” stories are important, and I hope we will continue to see more from the Native American community. I am sorry that Charlene Willing McManis passed away last year before the final revisions for the novel. The young protagonist Regina faces identity and family questions that will resonate with most middle grade students, and perhaps especially those from minorities and immigrants. This specific Native American history is also so important and deserves its place in every elementary school in the nation. As a Brit, I knew nothing about this Relocation law and its attempts to eradicate indigenous identity, and there are great explanations of it in the beginning and in the back matter. 

This is a great addition to school shelves especially as part of celebrating Native American month.

Activities/resources:

The book includes a map of the family’s trip from Oregon to Los Angeles. In the back is a Glossary, Author’s Note with photos, Co-Author’s Note (Unfortunately, McManis passed away while this book was being published; Traci Sorrell, enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, completed it.), Editor’s Note, and text for the folk tale “The Beaver and the Coyote”. The cover art is by Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota, Mohegan, Muscogee Creek). 

You could pair this with My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson.

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