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Cathy Robbins Thinking Aloud

American Indians Have Strong Voices

Wherever I give presentations about my book, I invite people to contribute their thoughts about American Indians today. I reach into the Native American community wherever I am and ask them to tell their stories as a way of expanding the impact of All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos), which was recently published.

In Portland, OR, the events coordinator of the Barnes and Noble store in Lloyd Center made it easy for me to find those people. From the moment I contacted Steve Chandler and told him about my goal, he had an idea in mind - a Saturday book fair devoted to American Indians with activities throughout the day and my book as the centerpiece at an afternoon author's event. A portion of the proceeds of sales throughout the store that day would go to a Native organization serving family and youth. He would get the word out to the American Indian community.

Working with Steve at long distance in San Francisco, I contacted Karen Kitchen, the head of the Indian program in the Portland Public Schools and asked her to collaborate with me for a program on education for urban Indians, a topic I cover in one of my chapters. She rounded up a Native high schooler in Portland who spends her summers with her Navajo grandparents. More than I could, they were able to give the audience a feel for American Indians today.

I had the sense to leave most of the program to Karen and her young friend. They were inspired. Karen described the Indian program in PPS, a small one compared with Albuquerque's, which I write about. But the issues are similar-cultural dislocation, language fluency but great richness. The young student she brought revealed a level of wisdom I did not have at her age; I even forgot to take notes on her wonderful talk-or write down her name! She is bi-tribal-from an Oregon tribe and Navajo. In her school, she said, she gets her education in science and other subjects and plays the sports she loves. Then during the summer, she goes to her grandparents on the Navajo Nation. There she listens carefully to elders and others who have other lessons to teach her by attending tribal council meetings and by just paying attention at family gatherings. These, she said, help ground her and make her strong.

We had a good audience, and the bookstore donated a portion of the proceeds of the day's book sales to a Native organization. I personally donated a portion of the proceeds to the Portland State Native American Student Center, so that between Barnes and Noble and me, funds reached young people from Kindergarten to college students. I want to give a shout-out to Barnes and Noble and Steve Chandler. With people and companies like these, we show the impact of books beyond the printed page. The event gave me personal satisfaction, not just in terms of sales but more importantly for what it showed about American Indians today.
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