Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis & Traci Sorell is an exceptional and unique middle-grade historical fiction set in Oregon and Southern California in 1957-58. It’s an entertaining and realistic look at 10-year-old Regina Petit’s Umpqua Nation life on their Grand Ronde reservation in Oregon and their eventual termination.
After the Umpqua’s termination by the government, the story follows Regina’s extended family’s exodus from Grand Ronde to Los Angeles after the Umpqua termination to begin life, as her father says, as Americans. Regina experiences the trials and tribulations of trying to fit into her new Los Angeles neighborhood where nothing is familiar while navigating three big questions: Am I Indian? Am I American? Am I both?
Indian No More gives the reader an important glimpse into what it was like to be a member of a tribal nation targeted by the government for termination. Among other things, the termination policy ended the government’s recognition of tribal sovereignty, allowed the government to step away from their financial commitments from previous treaties, and established themselves as custodians over their land. Those native peoples affected, mainly against their will, were thrown into a mainstream society they really didn’t want to be thrown into and generally weren’t prepared to handle. For more background on U.S. Termination Policy, check out the wiki and the reference resources listed.
The switch from the relative comfort of the Umpqua Grand Ronde reservation to the discomforts at the house on 58th Place in LA is emotionally felt as one reads the book. Both places have similar fundamental issues of poverty and racism, but one is home and the other is completely foreign to Regina. Falling back on her own Umpqua experience and move to Los Angeles, Charlene Willing McManis masterfully takes us on a journey of family, friendships, and fitting in among an often cruel racial backdrop of late 1950s America.
Sadly, author Charlene Willing McManis passed away on May 1, 2018. She left the revision responsibility and the publication journey in the capable hands of her friend and talented author, Traci Sorell. To get an idea about who Charlene was as both a writer and a human, Traci agreed to answer a few questions about her and the process of directing Indian No More to publication.
How and when did you first meet Charlene?
I first met Charlene at Kweli’s Color of Children’s Literature Conference in April 2016. All of the Native writers attending sat together at lunch and marveled to be at a kidlit conference where there were so many of us. That never happens! So we all said we’d be back again the following year.
Charlene and I became fast friends that day and stayed in touch after the conference. She got cancer after that and could not attend the 2017 Kweli conference, but she received treatment. I interviewed her for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations blog when Charlene sold Indian No More to Tu Books that fall. All the Native writers cheered when they heard the news!
What was the process of taking over Indian No More after Charlene’s much-too-early passing in May of 2018?
In late January 2018, Charlene posted on Facebook that her cancer had come back and could not be cured. She did not have long to live. I sat there in shock for a few minutes. Then I immediately reached out to her. I cried the rest of the day, not wanting to accept that my joyful friend and her family had just received such devastating news.
In early March, Charlene emailed that her publisher, Stacy Whitman, asked if Charlene could recommend anyone to finish the revisions needed to get Indian No More published. Charlene wrote and said that she immediately thought of me and sent me the manuscript. While honored and humbled, I felt overwhelmed at the thought of revising a historical fiction middle grade novel in prose. I knew it was not autobiographical, but it was informed by her childhood and that of the experiences of her fellow tribal members. It seemed way out of my league. I had only written picture books and poetry to that point. And I’m from a completely different Native Nation with a different language, culture and history.
I quickly sent Charlene’s novel to my agent, Emily Mitchell, without reading it. As a former children’s book editor, I knew she could evaluate whether I would be able to pull it off. She responded that I could absolutely do this. I then read it and fell in love with the voice of the main character, Regina. I wanted to finish this book for my friend.
The responsibility of guiding this important story to publication must have been difficult. How did you manage and find the proper footing to continue Charlene’s vision of the book? Did you have any members of the Umpqua Nation.to turn to?
I’m not going to lie. Very difficult. Normally when you co-author a piece, there is someone there to ask questions to, throw ideas out with and take turns drafting or revising sections. I only had her written words. Thankfully, the voice of Regina captivated me as soon as I started reading. I felt like I could write in Regina’s voice. I understood each character’s back story enough that I was able to revise and not lose their essence on the page. But I needed a lot of help and I got it.
Lee & Low, the parent company of the Tu Books imprint, supported my trip to visit the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde (CTGR) in early January of this year. This Native Nation is comprised of 29 tribes that were removed to the Grand Ronde reservation in northwest Oregon from their own tribal homelands. Charlene’s tribe, the Umpqua, are part of CTGR. The Cultural Resources Department staff, led by David Harrelson, were top notch. I had full access to their archives and museum including a new exhibit of their cultural items on loan from the British Museum. They helped me ensure we used the correct Chinuk Wawa words in the book, which Regina’s grandmother speaks and teaches her granddaughters. The book would lack so much without their input.
My husband and mother also helped me fact check all late 1950s pop culture and daily life references in the book. They also read it out loud for me so I could hear what the prose sounded like, which greatly helped my revision process.
The termination policies of the United States Government were damaging, to say the least. Many of the terminated Native Nations, against all odds, recovered and re-established themselves. What message do you think this perseverance of heritage speaks to future generations who may have to deal with these issues again?
Yes, it was devastating when Congress passed the termination resolution stating it would be their policy to cease having a government-to-government relationship with some Native Nations that they had signed treaties and entered into other legal agreements with to uphold. Through a series of statutes that followed, the federal government terminated one hundred and nine tribes. They sold off the land and resources of these tribes. It led to many tribal citizens being displaced because they could not afford to buy the land they lived on outright at the marked-up prices. That’s what the main character Regina, her family and the Grand Ronde tribe experience in the story.
The neighborhood at 58th Place is so full of life, positive and negative, good and bad, kind and mean-spirited. It felt so incredibly real to me as I read the book and I think many readers will be like me and be completely immersed in this setting. How did Charlene and you go about crafting this “feel”? (It’s masterfully done, by the way.)
That was really all Charlene. I certainly crafted some scenes that needed to be fleshed out more, but because she had grown up there, her descriptions of the place are spot on. Her husband sent me photos of her in that neighborhood, so I had those around me as I worked. I visited with him and found out her entire block of 58th Place had been torn down to build a large supermarket mall. But the rest of 58th Place still remained. The three-story red brick school building had been replaced, but I got a black and white photo of it from the Los Angeles School District. So I felt like I was there as I revised the story. This summer when I attended the SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles, I went to Charlene’s old neighborhood and saw how close the houses are with their postage stamp yards, more concrete than grass, just as she describes.
The cover art is spectacular! Can you shed some light on the details of the cover art and design?
My editor, Elise McMullen-Ciotti, and the Tu Books publisher, Stacy Whitman, asked if I had any additional Native illustrators they could add to their established list. I gave them Marlena Myles’ name as she illustrated Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, a picture book poetry anthology, edited by Miranda Paul and published by Millbrook, in which I have a cinquain poem. I took a lot of photos when I visited Grand Ronde in Oregon from Spirit Mountain and the community plankhouse to their iconography in the art, museum and books I viewed there. I shared all of that with Marlena who is based in St. Paul, Minnesota, so she could take what she found useful to create the cover. Beyond that, she and the staff at Tu Books made the magic happen!
What do you think Charlene would say about the finished product and all the well-deserved accolades that Indian No More has garnered?
I assure you that Charlene would be smiling profusely as she always did. She would also thank so many people: her family for their support, her fellow Grand Ronde tribal citizens for sharing their termination and relocation experiences, all those who had helped hone her craft including her critique group, her mentor Margarita Engle, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Supriya Kelkar, those at Tu Books – Stacy Whitman, Elise McMullen-Ciotti – along with the rest of the Lee & Low staff, and the readers who have already said how much they enjoyed and learned from the book.
Charlene wanted to shine a light on a period of US history that is not taught in schools. Until now, there has not been a story for young people that shared what many Native Nations experienced at the same time as the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War. This book is now part of her legacy and I am grateful for that.
Author Katherine Quimby wrote an exceptional memorial tribute following Charlene’s death on the Cynsations Blog.
One of my greatest hopes for this book is that educators, librarians, and adults who work with kids, will carefully read the chapters in Indian No More about media representation and the Pilgrims & Indians “First” Thanksgiving pageant at Regina’s school. After reading, look at what we are still doing in 2019 at schools all across this nation to continue the harmful representation built into these false mythologies. It’s time to find a better and more accurate way to celebrate both Thanksgiving and the Native American Heritage Month in our classrooms.
As we plan for November and Native American Heritage Month, let’s not only bring more of these great Native & Indigenous works into our libraries, curriculums, and bookshelves but let’s expand this to a 365-day celebration, year after year after year. Because not only are books like Indian No More great examples of the work produced by Native authors, they’re just plain great books. So many stories from the past, present, and future are being produced by Native creators it’s a shame to confine the spotlight to only one month a year.