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280 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1994
My cousins maintain that one of our ancestors was an American Indian. As a child, I loved that notion, and often exaggerated it by telling people that I was a full-blooded Indian. I inhaled Indian myths [...]. I crept through the woods near our house, reenacting these myths, and wishing, wishing, for a pair of soft leather moccasins. (I admit—but without apology—that my view of American Indians was a romantic one.)Fine, okay: lots of kids do stuff like that. When I was a kid I’d often pretend to be an ancient Greek hero, or a Spanish explorer, or an American president, and none of those make-believe games was necessarily harmful, in my opinion.
It’s an Indian name, meaning “tree sweet juice,” or—in other words—maple sugar. Only Grandmother Pickford ever called my mother by her Indian name, though. Everyone else called my mother Sugar.Well, the name Chanhassen is a town in Minnesota, and the name of the town does reportedly come from the Dakota Sioux word chanhasen, from chan (“tree”) + haza (“tree with sap”). I guess the “act of defiance” was giving her Seneca daughter a Sioux name?
My mother had not liked the term Native Americans. She thought it sounded primitive and stiff. She said “My great-grandmother was a Seneca Indian, and I’m proud of it. She wasn’t a Seneca Native American. Indian sounds much more brave and elegant.”That would be a fine opinion for a character to have, but it also feels a bit like Creech’s own opinion, especially given what Creech said: “I loved [the] notion [that I was part Indian]. I admit—but without apology—that my view of American Indians was a romantic one.” I don’t know if it's really appropriate for someone who’s not Native American to have an opinion on what the most “correct” (or, in this case, “brave and elegant”) terminology is—or at least if they have it, it probably shouldn’t be expressed in public. Certainly not to the Newbery judges.
That night we stayed in Injun Joe’s Peace Palace Motel. On a sign in the lobby, someone had crossed out “Injun” and written “Native American” so the whole sign read “Native American Joe’s Peace Palace Motel.” In our room, the “Injun Joe’s” embroidered on the towels had been changed with black marker to “Indian Joe’s.” I wished everybody would just make up their minds.Sure, this is a fairly plausible thing for a 13-year-old to think, especially if she has complicated feelings about her family’s heritage. But Sal isn’t the one speaking, because she’s a fictional character: and, taking into consideration Creech’s own feelings about the apparent braveness and elegance of the word “Indian” compared to “Native American,” that last line—“I wished everybody would just make up their minds”—feels like it’s coming from Creech only. It also sounds uncomfortably similar to people who complain about “PC culture,” by which they mean there are so many genders and sexualities and whatnot these days, and can’t everybody just make up their minds, like we did “in the old days” when everyone was even more racist?