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  • Writer's pictureKate Hanfling

Library Favorites: We Are Still Here!

Hello, Everyone! Welcome to July’s edition of Library Favorites. If you’ve missed any of our past selections, all of our entries can be found on our blog. This month, I wanted to write about a book that helps explain one of the foundational principles of our mission at Piscataway Park, We Are Still Here: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac.

The Accokeek Foundation stewards about 200 acres of the total 5,000 acres of Piscataway Park. The Foundation strives to uphold these values: “We honor our river location, the Piscataway people, and the sacredness of this land. We stand against injustice and systemic racism and are committed to hearing truths that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color share. We actively listen to others’ voices so we can understand, gain knowledge, and broaden our perspectives. We respect our planet and its resources and work to restore and protect them. We work cooperatively with our partners to provide safe and just access to public lands.”

To do this effectively and ethically, we partner with multiple organizations, including the Piscataway people. The Piscataway have lived on this land for thousands of years, long before European colonists. Despite centuries of oppression and broken promises from colonial, state, and federal governments, they have endured and continue to reside on the land today. The land is sacred to the Piscataway people; it was the site of the Piscataway tribe’s capital city, Moyaone, and the Tayac’s home. It remains a sacred burial ground and the site of tribal gatherings and ceremonies.

The book’s framing device is a presentation day at a Native-operated school, with students assigned topics like assimilation, the Indian New Deal, termination, and language revival. Each page of the book is a student’s presentation, with basic information and an accompanying well-researched illustration. Each presentation/page concludes with the refrain “we are still here!” affirming that Indigenous people are still very much a part of our country’s present. The back of the book includes more information about each topic, an explanation of the illustration, a timeline of relations between Native Nations and the United States from the late 1800s to today, and a glossary of terms. Big conversations with children can be difficult, but tools like this book can serve as a valuable guide and introduction. The illustrations are bright and beautiful, and the refrain is affirming. It doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, but the point is not recrimination. Instead, it aims to educate the reader and move forward.

I feel like I need to be open and a bit vulnerable here: my high school education covered almost no Native American history. I’m originally from Oklahoma, so you might think I would have gotten at least some education around the topic, but other than the Trail of Tears and the Five Moons, I remember next to nothing. This is to say that books like Sorell’s We Are Still Here are absolutely vital to the education of our country’s children if we truly do want to move forward in peace and understanding with the first inhabitants of the land we share. The book presents difficult topics, like oppression and current policies that Indigenous People continue to protest and recover from, in a way that children can begin to understand.

This book is perhaps not the best for the very young; there are big words and big concepts that might be too difficult for them to grasp. For these children (Pre-K, K) I would highly recommend Sorell and Lessac’s first collaboration, We Are Grateful: Otsaligeliga. This one, I would recommend for 1st-5th grades. Whether you use the book to start a conversation in your home or classroom, We Are Still Here is an invaluable resource and starting point for children to understand an integral but often ignored piece of our country’s history. Pick up a copy at the Visitor’s Center, at your local library (this one is widely available), or online. If you buy through Amazon, please remember to support the Accokeek Foundation with Amazon Smile. See you next month!

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