Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

August 6, 2012

The censoring of Rosalie Little Thunder

Tucson schools banned books: Just what was so provocative, so dangerous, about Rethinking Columbus?

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

TUCSON -- Still delirious from the relentless heat, I stumble into the university bookstore, in search of cold air. Then, I see them. Spread on a table near the front door, neatly arranged, are the banned books I've been searching for.

Picking up 500 Years Anos del Pueblo Chicano, 500 Years of Chicano History in pictures, I then see that my long search is over. I've finally found a copy of Rethinking Columbus, The Next 500 Years, among the first seven books banned by the Tucson Unified School District. The list of banned books was bloated into dozens of books when Mexican-American Studies was forbidden in January. The books in the classrooms were placed on the extricating cart and doomed for the depository.

So, just what was so naughty, so provocative, so dangerous, in Rethinking Columbus?

Rethinking Columbus is packed full of famous Native American authors.

The powerful Native American women's voices censored by Tucson public schools includes the voice of Rosalie Little Thunder, in, "The Sacred Buffalo." Little Thunder's letter describes the massacre of buffalo at Yellowstone National Park. It includes a personal family story of massacre and survival and her arrest at Yellowstone.

Above all, Little Thunder's letter describes the significance of the slaughter of buffalo. For the colonizers, the buffalo must die to eradicate Indians, just as in the minds of Tucson public school officials, the voices of Lakota survivors must be banned and silenced.

Little Thunder writes in Rethinking Columbus, "Just as I am a survivor of massacre, so too are the Yellowstone buffalo survivors of massacre."

Here, too, in Rethinking Columbus, is the powerful account of "Resistance at Oka," by Mohawk author Peter Blue Cloud Aroniawenrate. The censorship of Aroniawenrate by Tucson public schools was so powerful that the publisher of his book of poetry re-released it in response. Gary Lawless at Blackberry Books, re-released Back Then Tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the dramatic photos in the book of 500 Years of Chicano History, reveal plenty of photos to inspire. There are photos of farm workers being beaten bloody, and photos of the Southwest Organizing Project, fighting toxic dumping on Indian lands and elsewhere in the Southwest.

History, you see, is dangerous.

In 500 Years of Chicano History, there are also photos from southern New Mexico, where the wives of miners picked up the picket signs and manned the picket lines of the famous mining strike. The women faced brutality, while striking for running water and decent housing. Even their children were jailed.

Here, the past and present come together. When the movie about the mining strike, Salt of the Earth, was filmed in Silver City, N.M., in 1953, with the real life heroes of this strike, McCarthyism struck, and the filming went underground. In the next 10 years, only 12 theaters showed the film.

Wikipedia states about Salt of the Earth, "Director Herbert Biberman was one of the Hollywood screenwriters and directors who refused to answer the House Committee on Un-American Activities on questions of CPUSA affiliation in 1947. The Hollywood Ten were cited and convicted for contempt of Congress and jailed. Biberman was imprisoned in the Federal Correctional Institution at Texarkana for six months. After his release he directed this film.[3] Other participants who made the film and were blacklisted by the Hollywood studios include: Paul Jarrico, Will Geer, Rosaura Revueltas, and Michael Wilson."

Today, those miners and the movie have survived the tentacles of McCarthyism. The attacks to banish Salt of the Earth only served to cement it as legend.

The banning of Rethinking Columbus, 500 Years of Chicano History, and all the other books banned by Tucson public schools, reserves their place in history. The voices of Rosalie Little Thunder, Lakota, Peter Blue Cloud, Mohawk, and all the others, are now assured of standing the tests of time.

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Also see:
Heatstroke: Scrounging for banned books in Tucson, with list of banned books and Censored News videos with Tucson students:

Copyright Brenda Norrell