Friday, March 03, 2023

Guy Friday- Native American Resources

Landry, Alysa. Thomas H. Begay and the Navajo Code Talkers
February 14th 2023 by Ohio University Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Thomas was born in 1926 in New Mexico, where his parents raised eight children in a hogan, a log structure with a dirt floor. At the time, there was a lot less technology, and many Navajo communities still were able to hold onto traditional ways; Thomas' birthday is unsure because his family didn't follow the traditional white calendar. When he was 13, his father sent him to a boarding school for Native American children in Fort Defiance, Arizona, hoping that he would get an education and have more opportunities. There, he met with a lot of condemnation of his culture. He was given a last name, rather at random, and his teachers tried to get him to dress and act more like white society. When he was old enough, World War II was raging. 

Landry is upfront about the fact that she is not a Native writer, and that she worked closely with Begay to tell his story, and also did extensive research in order to get the details right. 

It's good that this book gives a lot of background information on various aspects of culture that affected Begay's life. To me, his years in boarding school would make fascinating reading, but when he worked on this biography with the author, I'm sure his years in the army were more interesting to him. After the first chapter, which outlines his young life, there is a chapter on the history of treatment of Native people, especially Navajos. In a similar way, there is a lot of background information on the inclusion of Native codebreakers in the army, and an entire chapter on code which young readers will find very informative. 

Begay and the other men in the 382nd Marine platoon were sent to the Pacific theater, where they used their skills to successfully send coded messages. They were also part of the D-Day operation at Iwo Jima, and three of the group were killed. There are lots of details about the code breaking and fighting that will definitely appeal to hard core World War II buffs. 

There is a fantastic timeline at the end of the book, along with a glossary. Words are in bold print throughout the book, and readers who don't know them can easily flip to the back. There isn't a note about this at the beginning; I would have formatted the book so that the words were defined in a box at the side of the page, rather like a text book. There's no space for that, but there are a lot of good black and white pictures to support the text. 

I had not realized that the Navajo Code Talkers were not allowed to talk about their work until the late 1960s, but there is a chapter talking about the problems that the men faced after the war, and a lot about the legacy of the code talkers and the efforts Begay, who is 96 and still active, has taken to keep this legacy alive. Readers who enjoyed Spradlin's John Basilone: World War II: Bravery at Guadalcanal or Weintraub's No Better Friend will be enthralled by the war time experience of Begay and his platoon, and readers who are interested in Native history will find a lot of information they might not have known. 

Juettner, Bonnie. 100 Native Americans Who Shaped American History
October 1st 2002 by Sourcebooks Explore (updated 2022?)
Copy provided by the publisher

It's difficult to find information about Native Americans, so this collective biography of 100 different historical figures, starting with Dekanawida (c.1550-c.1600) and ending with new additions  John Herrington and Deb Haaland, is a very useful starting point for a lot of different research. I especially appreciate that all of these 100 volumes list the people in chronological order, and give a great overview of each individual's life. The entries give a brief overview of the person's life, list accomplishments and activities, and include other people who were important to the person's career. 

There is a wide range of people presented, and lots of different tribal affliations. There's a good cross section of time periods, and about half come from before 1900. More well known people, like Jim Thorpe, Wilma Mankiller, and Thomas Begay are mentioned, but the real value of this is the inclusion of people like all three LaFlesche siblings (Susan, Suzette, and Francis), Frank Dukepoo, and John Echohawk. There are poets, artists, scholars, and a large number of people who were active in obtaining rights for Native people and involved in setting up or forwarding the progress of various organizations like the American Indian Movement. 

I would have liked to see a map of where various tribes were originally located, and I was a bit surprised that author Joseph Bruchac wasn't included. 

There's a helpful timeline at the beginning of the book, trivia questions (which I may use for the fact of the day on our school announcements for Native American Heritage Month in November), and a very complete index. In each entry, people, places and terms that might be new to readers are printed in bold type, which is very helpful. This will be a very useful and interesting book for my students to read. 

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