More Than That by Todd County High School students
Fellow AILA member, Debbie Reese, recently blogged about the ABC 20/20 special, A Hidden America: Children of the Plains, on her American Indians in Children’s Literature blog. I missed the special but caught it thanks to her post. While I actually thought it was good to see something – anything – on Native Americans on mainstream television, the topics were predictable ones. Yes, Diane Sawyer did preface the piece by noting that it was part of a series on the “poorest populations in the country” and I agree with the first commentator on Debbie’s post that these subjects – alcoholism, unemployment, teen pregnancy, suicide – are important to discuss and tackle. But, it’s just that the one time you see Indians get that much time on mainstream T.V., you somehow want that coverage to be more inclusive of other tribes and experiences. And that they wouldn’t fade the teenage athlete and top student Robert Looks Twice’s face onto historical Indian figures or see a group of Pine Ridge residents inexplicably riding horses toward the camera.
Reese notes that students at Todd County High School created a rebuttal to the special entitled “More than That.” While I think that some of the qualities that the students highlight in the video were reflected by the youth in the special, the point is taken that people who have the power to bring portrayals of Native people to others via books and other media need to aim for more inclusivity. When a community (here I am talking more broadly in terms of Native Americans as a minority) doesn’t get all that much air time and you are taking the time to cover it, do it right. Don’t get me wrong. It was definitely a positive to hear Looks Twice say he aims to be the first Native American president or hear the kindergardeners speaking Lakota and yelling out the same future careers that any American kindergardener would call out when Sawyer asks them what they want to be when they grow up. But, don’t just show the problem issues and what may seem like the few exceptions who are overcoming their situations. Like the students say: show more than that. It’s probably impossible to cover an entire people to anyone’s satisfaction (I vaguely remember watching specials on Latinos and Blacks on other channels that were also somehow lacking), but ABC could probably afford to try a little harder. Series topic suggestions, anyone?