The following position statement on Indigenous Peoples and People of Color (IPOC) in English and Language Arts Materials is a revision of Non-White Minorities in English and Language Arts Materials (itself a revision of the Criteria for Teaching Materials in Reading and Literature). The original version was first accepted by the Executive Committees of the National Council of Teachers of English and the Conference on College Composition and Communication in 1970. The revised statement was then officially adopted by the NCTE Board of Directors at the annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 26, 1978. Since this groundbreaking inception, some necessary changes have occurred. Specifically, within certain contexts, publishers have been intentionally inclusive with providing and producing various diverse materials and resources with their products and advertisements. Likewise, teachers have created spaces and opportunities for their students to learn from literature and scholarship that highlight the experiences of multiethnic individuals, communities, and organizations. Even with these advances, problems still remain that need to be further explored. This revision outlines existing problems and tensions while offering possible solutions. Both the original (1970) and revised (1978) statements were prepared by the Task Force on Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English, directed by Ernece Kelly. We hope that you will share this newest version with others in your professional networks and beyond—teachers, students, artists, community leaders or organizations, librarians, scholar-activists, and other thought leaders. In doing so, you will be contributing to the humanizing practices of seeking to sustain more equitable and just practices within and across classroom and school contexts.
Indigenous communities and People of Color in the United States, including Native Americans and Alaska Natives, Pacific Islanders, Asian Americans, Blacks, Chicanx, Puerto Ricans, and others, continue to suffer debilitating and systemic discrimination in jobs, housing, civil rights, and education. Part of this discrimination takes place in the form of erasure, and these communities continue to face a school curriculum that, for them, frequently downplays or does not include their communities’ work and contributions. Ironically, it is also a curriculum which, in a different fashion, deprives white students and teachers by denying them opportunities to gain a more complete and accurate picture of the diverse and intricately connected constellations of histories and literatures of the United States. While some strides have been made, that work is incomplete, and the still-existing structural inequalities within education continue to make an impact on all students.
During the course of their education, students acquire more than skills and knowledge; they also find and continue to modify images of themselves, as they form attitudes toward other persons, races, and cultures. To be sure, the school experience is not the sole force that shapes self-images, nor does it totally influence one’s attitude toward others. At the same time, research has demonstrated the substantial role that education plays in student self-perception in relationship to both their own race/culture/ethnicity and that of others. Therefore, to the extent that school does exert influence, it is essential that its materials foster positive student self-images deeply rooted in a sense of personal dignity. Additionally, school materials should also foster the development of attitudes grounded in respect for and understanding of the diverse cultures of American society. Classroom teachers are immediately responsible for continuing action to accomplish these ends. However, curriculum planners, textbook selection committees, local, state, and national education authorities, as well as designers of learning systems and publishers are equally responsible and obligated to ensure that more affirming and validating practices are represented in the work.
Unfortunately, the same problems which existed in the 1960s when ethnic studies movements began to challenge the instruction about and of IPOC in the United States still persist. Namely, the lack and misrepresentation of IPOC in US literature, particularly youth literature and culture, continue in the creation of materials today. Often, print materials (general anthologies, basal readers, language arts kits, etc.) and nonprint materials (slides, study prints, films, filmstrips, videos, illustrations in texts, etc.) used in English and language arts instruction are distorted by
- a failure to account for the rich range of genres within IPOC traditions, including those generated by youth, such as storytelling, performance, poetry, novels, and zines.
- misrepresentation of histories, knowledges, and lived experiences of IPOC communities because of tokenism, given inclusion and celebration of only popular works by a few “acceptable” nonwhite writers.
- inclusion of demeaning, insensitive, or inaccurate depictions of marginalized and minoritized communities.
- biased book reviews and sometimes even scholarship available to literacy educators resulting from inadequate inclusion of and teaching on IPOC literatures and communities in English departments and library and teacher education programs.
- lack of complex understanding of the contributions of IPOC writers and cultural producers to US literary and cultural traditions.
Book editors and publishers should make certain that
- anthology editors should strive to include writing and authors that support a more holistic view of the Americas and the United States, specifically as an area affected by settler colonialism in which IPOC populations have long-standing literary and cultural traditions within and without US borders. Selective tokenism is no longer a relevant form of inclusion, and diversifying reading and classroom materials is necessary.
- texts represent Indigenous peoples and People of Color in a fashion which respects their dignity as human beings and accurately mirrors their contributions to American culture, history, and letters, meaning that depictions of these communities should be balanced and realistic.
- robust and appropriate contextual materials and resources are included and made easily available to educators and students.
- illustrations and photographs of Indigenous peoples and People of Color accurately portray historical and socioeconomic diversity and do not play purposefully or inadvertently to stereotype.
- dialect is realistic, consistent, and appropriate to the setting and characters.
- editorial and critical commentary include the roles played by Indigenous and POC writers in literary developments.
- texts include criticism by Indigenous and POC critics on the works of white as well as nonwhite writers.
- historical commentary and interpretations include the range of minority perspectives on social and political history.
Teachers and administrators should ask whether
- their English and language arts curricula include more than token representation of Indigenous and POC writers and/or critics.
- efforts are consistently made in the classroom to encourage active use of materials which have more than a token representation of Indigenous and POC writers/critics.
- efforts are consistently made to incorporate robust contextual materials that appropriately frame Indigenous and POC’s contributions.
- illustrations or photographs of Indigenous peoples and People of Color in the materials are nonstereotyped and unsentimental.
- illustrations or photographs of Indigenous peoples and People of Color show them in a variety of roles, including positions of authority.
- the dialogue of Indigenous peoples and People of Color is realistic (not exclusively stereotyped).
- discussions of US literary, social, and political history examine the constellation of relationships between white, Indigenous, and POC communities.
- discussions of US literary, social, and political history are also by Indigenous peoples or People of Color.
If teachers and administrators had to answer NO to one or more of these questions, the material being used probably conveys a distorted picture of the United States and its literatures. The NCTE Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English urges that such material be balanced by other materials that present positive images of Indigenous peoples and People of Color. When adopting new instructional materials, teachers are urged to use adoption criteria that will ensure that classroom materials accurately reflect the literatures of America.
Should teachers and administrators elect to replace their present materials, the Committee strongly urges them to write the publishers informing them of their reasons for doing so.
- https://www.reclaimingnativetruth.com/ for resources on research to dispel misperceptions of Indigenous communities and nations
- First Nations Development Institute Resource for Allies: https://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center/?search=&post-type=&pub-categories=reclaiming-native-truth
- The interactive Native Land Map: https://native-land.ca
- Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, with short essays on popular fiction and annual recommendations for all reading levels: https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com
- Indigenous comic books and video games: https://www.cbc.ca/parents/learning/view/how-the-comic-book-and-gaming-community-is-reclaiming-indigenous-perspectiv
- An Indigenous game perspective on Oregon Trail-type games, “When Rivers Were Trails”: https://www.wpr.org/when-rivers-were-trails-puts-indigenous-spin-oregon-trail
- Resources on Native American boarding schools: https://www.boardingschoolhealing.org
- Indian Education resource list and links, including pedagogy websites, Indigenous newspapers and magazines, and more: https://www.oregon.gov/ode/students-and-family/equity/NativeAmericanEducation/Pages/Indian-Education-Resources.aspx
- On “Bioarcheaology, DNA, and Indigeneity” at https://www.sfu.ca/ipinch/project-components/working-groups/bioarchaeology-genetics-and-ip-working-group/
- All My Relations podcast, on topics ranging from fashion to mascots to DNA tests: https://www.allmyrelationspodcast.com
- On traditional and contemporary Indigenous foodways: https://toastedsisterpodcast.com
- Project 562, a multiyear project to photograph contemporary members of the more than 562 federally recognized tribal nations in the United States: http://www.project562.com
- Educator resources from the National Museum of the American Indian, including Native Knowledge 360: https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360
- Adrienne Keene’s blog, Native Appropriations, for discussions on problematic use of Native American cultures and images: http://nativeappropriations.com
- Teaching for Change: Caribbean Connections: Puerto Rico (book) https://www.teachingforchange.org/books/our-publications/caribbean-connections/puerto-rico
- Sarah Park Dahlen, “Picture This: Reflecting Diversity in Book Publishing”: https://readingspark.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/picture-this-reflecting-diversity-in-childrens-book-publishing/
This document was revised by an NCTE working committee comprising the following:
- Raven Jones Stanbrough, Chair, Michigan State University, East Lansing
- Marilisa Jiménez García, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA
- Lisa King, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.