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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

From the Native American Times:

Indian parents outraged over 10 Little Indians Assignment


Sam Lewin
Staff Writer

Two sets of parents in Wichita, Kansas say they are outraged their children's ninth grade English teacher required her students to read and answer questions about the poem " Ten Little Indians."

Robert Bruner, a full-blooded Creek, said when his daughter Reanna came home and showed him the assignment, " I was like what kind of poem is this?"

His sister-in-law, Dawn Bruner, happens to have a daughter, Rhiannon, in the same class. She had a similar reaction. " I was racially offended. I couldn't believe they handed it out. I don't see what it could teach them."

The assignment asked students to answer questions about the poem and write down their thoughts about it.

Some of the questions on the assignment were: How many different ways do the Indians die? How many Indians survive? Is this the kind of rhyme you might read to your children or brother or sister? In response to the latter question, Reanna wrote, " No, because I am Native American. I can take a joke but I feel offended by this one. It makes me feel like my culture is nothing."

After seeing the assignment, the parents paid a visit to Assistant Principal Mark Joliffe. That trip didn't net much satisfaction.

" I was kind of disappointed. I felt like they were sweeping it under the rug. He (Joliffe) told us that we would never know what the school decides because those type of things are sealed", said Dawn Bruner.

Phoned at the school, Joliffe refused to speak to the Native American Times. His secretary, relaying a message, said, " he knows what the problem is and he's currently working on it."

The teacher who assigned the project, Kathleen Harpenau, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Wichita School Board President Chip Granke, when informed of the assignment, said, " it's hard for me to know what to say. This could have been some sort of exercise in tolerance, but there is probably a better way to do that. At our schools we make a serious effort to display tolerance…. my first impression of the assignment is somewhat caustic."

There are 49 thousand students in the Wichita Public School System. Granke says over half are minorities.

Harpenau gave the students the assignment while the class was reading the novel "And Then There Were None", by acclaimed English mystery writer Agatha Christie.

A quick Internet search reveals the work has a racially offensive history. According to the Official Agatha Christie Website, the book was " first published as ‘Ten Little N******' by William Collins Sons & Co. in London in 1939, and as ‘And Then There Were None' by Dodd, Mead & Co. in New York in 1940. The novel is named for and constructed according to a popular Victorian music hall show written by Frank Green in England in 1869. It was an adaptation of the American comic song ‘Ten Little Indians' written by Septimus Winner, published 1868. The author includes the complete song in Chapter 2 of the novel. The original title was deemed offensive by American publisher Dodd, Mead & Co. who changed it to ‘And Then There Were None.' "

Reanna Bruner says she hopes other kids, native and non-native alike, don't have to read the poem. " It makes us (Native Americans) look like we are stupid and no one cares about them."

Rob's reply
If it isn't obvious, this poem trivializes Indians by treating them as counting objects, as creatures who die and vanish, as "people" divorced from any real context. For more on the subject, see Indian Comics Irregular #45:  Ten Little Pilgirms and Indians.

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