Book Review: Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition)

Posted June 29, 2021 by Richetta in #ownvoices, Book Reviews, Uncategorized, Young Adult Nonfiction / 0 Comments

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I received this book for free from Levine Querido and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition)Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask by Anton Treuer
Published by Levine Querido, Chronicle Books on April 6, 2021
Genres: Young Adult Nonfiction
Pages: 272
Format: ARC, eBook, Hardcover
Source: Levine Querido and Edelweiss
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I wish I had this book when I was younger and asking some of the questions that were covered in Dr. Anton Treuer’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask. I grew up in Michigan and I first began learning about Indigenous culture in elementary school from an Ojibway educator named, Mr. Ken, who would visit us at our annual camp. He called his people Anishnabe and taught us that it meant First People. 

Learning about Another Culture is Important

One of the stories that I remember him telling us was about his personal experience with religious oppression. When he was a boy, there was a ceremony that he had to do in order to be considered a man, but according to U.S. law the ceremony was illegal. So one of the elders had to sneak him into the woods in order to perform this coming of age ceremony. When Mr. Ken told us that Indigenous religious practices were illegal until 1978, I was completely shocked.

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At the time, my response was two-fold 1) Whoa! I had no idea! I thought this country was founded on freedom of religion! 2) Whoa! I didn’t know Indigenous people were being actively oppressed like that! I thought only Black people got treated like that. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who would have that type of reaction. This book addresses both topics. 

That was the beginning of my thirst for more knowledge about Indigenous culture. I’m not going to give my age, but let’s just say 1978 was not that long ago when he was telling us the story. This part of our country’s history has been undertold. It is why this book and learning about different cultures is important for children and people of all ages. 

Synopsis

Set up in a Q & A format, the book is easily accessible and relatable to young readers with responses to each question written in a conversational tone. For some readers, some of the questions will make you want to give the person that asked it a huge side eye, while other readers would probably be the ones asking those exact questions. To be fair you have to refer back to the book’s title.

The questions are realistic, even the ones that some of us would consider ignorant. The beauty is in Dr. Treuer’s responses. He takes a question like “Why do Indians have so many kids?” and addresses the stereotype by including context and history that debunks the assumptions and negativity. That is why I love this book. It doesn’t attack or judge the questions, but it does address each one in a thoughtful, serious manner so no matter what, all readers are learning something from his response. 

Treuer highlights the past, present and potential future of what Indigenous people experience in the United States and Canada. It touches on so many categories from terminology to politics to economics to activism. It also covers recent events that have happened in the 21st century like the Dakota Pipeline protest and missing women, as well as events that happened in previous centuries like the Land Rush and AIM.

Expand Your Knowledge 

Treuer packed this book full of such rich knowledge. It is literally the stuff you don’t learn in school and history books. I believe that is why this book should be in schools so that we can start filling in the craters left by lack of telling the full history of this country. I found the politics section to be extremely interesting considering the coexistence of tribal laws and United States laws. 

A Few Fave Questions

  • “What is meant by Native “Ways of knowing”? Where he addresses different types of knowledge and respecting it the same way you respect academic knowledge. 
  • “What music is most popular for Natives today?” I checked out some of the artists he mentioned and let’s just say I have some new faves on my playlist like A Tribe Called Red and Northern Cree.
  • “Why is it called a traditional Indian fry bread taco?” I can’t lie, I LOVE fry bread! I used to couldn’t wait for the powwow so that I could get some. But Dr. Treuer’s response to this one taught me several things about the word “traditional” when it comes to food.

Read Books About Indigenous Culture by Indigenous Authors

You can find history books about Indigenous people, but ask yourself: are they written by an Indigenous person? Are the children’s and young adult books you use in your curriculum that feature Indigenous stories written by Indigenous authors?

It is important that people have platforms to tell their own stories. One of the main reasons IMHO that Indigenous people are often thought of in past-tense is because their voices have been so often silenced and prevented from telling their own stories. This has got to change and I’m glad publishing are supporting Native voices more and more. Dr. Treuer has additional books that I plan to check out: visit his website. If you would like to learn more about children’s books, I suggest following Dr. Debbie Reese American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) who frequently discusses this point and provides suggestions for children’s and young adult books by Indigenous authors.  

Would I Read it Again: Yes! That’s an easy one. I will be adding this to my permanent bookshelf and I will be seeking out the adult version to read as well. 

Educator Recommendations: If you are an educator then you need to read this. Indigenous people are not of the past, they are not gone. You may have a child right now sitting in your classroom who is Indigenous and may or may not “look” like it and they deserve an educator who has gone the extra mile to understand more about Indigenous cultures and experiences. This is a great book to jigsaw with students and ask them to do further research to present to their classmates.

Language Immersion Education: Are you an educator who works in an immersion program or believes in using dialect as a main tool for creating a safe, productive school environment? Check out the Education section of the book where he responds to the question, “Is anyone getting it right in Indian education?”

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