Saturday, January 16, 2016

Not Recommended: Nancy Bo Flood's SOLDIER SISTER, FLY HOME

Some months ago, I learned that Lori Piestewa was being written about in a book by Nancy Bo Flood. My immediate reaction was similar to the reaction I had in 1999 when I read Ann Rinaldi's My Heart Is On The Ground. In preparation for her book on Native children at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Rinaldi visited the cemetery there. She used the name of one of the children buried there as a name for one of her characters. That--and many other things about her book--astonished me. What happened to Native Nations and our children because of those schools is something we have yet to recover from. Rinaldi using the name of one of those children was wrong.

Flood is doing that, too.

Soon after the Iraq War began in 2003, Lori Piestewa was killed in Iraq. Her death was felt by people across Native Nations, who started a movement to rename "Squaw Peak" in her honor. Janet Napolitano (she was the governor of the state of Arizona at that time; the Hopi Nation is in Arizona) supported the move. Though it was a difficult change to make (due to governmental regulations), it did take place. What was once "Squaw" Peak (squaw is a derogatory term) is now Piestewa Peak. Each year, there are gatherings there to remember Lori Piestewa. Her family is at those gatherings, as are many Native people.

Tess--the main character in Flood's Soldier Sister, Fly Home--is Navajo. The story opens on the morning of a "ceremony" for Lori. Tess and her parents will go to it, but her older sister, Gaby won't be there because she is in the service. Tess is angry that her sister enlisted in the first place, but also angry that Gaby can't be at the service. The reason? Gaby and Lori were friends (p. 14):
Lori was the first of my sister's friends to join, the first to finish boot camp, the first deployed to Iraq. "Nothing fancy, nothing dangerous," Lori had emailed. "I'll help with supplies, help the soldiers who do the fighting. They're the real warriors. Before you know it, I'll be back."
It is implied that Lori wrote to Gaby. That passage feels wrong to me, too. Several news articles report that Lori sent an email to her mother. In it, she said "We're going in," and "Take care of the babies. I'll see you when I get back." Whether she used Lori's actual words or ones she made up and attributed to Lori doesn't matter. What matters is that she did it in the first place.

The "ceremony" for Lori that Tess and her parents go to bothers me, too. It is going to be held in a gymnasium in Tuba City. When they get there, Tess sees that there are "three large wide drums clustered together." Three different times during this "ceremony," the drumbeat is described as "boom-BOOM."

In newspaper accounts, I find that there was a memorial service held for her in a gymnasium in Tuba City on April 12, 2003, but I don't find any descriptions of it. What is important, is that it was a memorial. Not a "ceremony." At these kinds of Native gatherings (many are held in gyms, so that is not a problem with Flood's story), there is a drum and honor guard, but no "ceremony" of the kind that is implied. And characterizing the sound of the drum as "boom-BOOM" is, quite frankly, laughable.

On page 14 of Soldier Sister, we read that Tess's mother is going to give Lori's family a Pendleton blanket. Tess remembers her sister in that gym, standing at center circle ready to play basketball (p. 15):
Today Lori's mother stood in that circle, wrapped in a dark-purple blanket. Purple, the color of honor. Fallen Warrior. On each side of her stood two little children, Lori's children. Did they hope Lori would come home and surprise them?
Surprise them?! That part of that passage strikes me as utterly callous and lacking in sensitivity for Lori's children and family.

It is possible that, at the actual service that happened that day (news accounts indicate her family was given Pendleton blankets are other memorials since then), someone gave Lori's family a Pendleton blanket. It may have been one of the Chief Joseph blankets. They're available in purple. Pendleton blankets figure prominently throughout Native nations. I've been given them, and I've given them to others, too.

I doubt, however, that a purple one was chosen because purple signifies honor to Hopi or Navajo people. Purple carries that meaning for others, though. In the US armed services, for example, there's the Purple Heart.

All of what I find in Soldier Sister, Fly Home 
that is specific to Lori Piestewa, is cringe-worthy. 

In the back of the book, Flood writes at length about getting Navajo consultants to read the story to check the accuracy of the Navajo parts of the story and her use of Navajo words, too. There is no mention of having spoken to anyone at Hopi, or anyone in Lori Piestewa's family, about this story.

In her "Acknowledgements and Author's Note," Flood writes that (p. 153):
A percentage of the royalties from the sale of this book will be contributed to the American Indian College Fund to support the education of Lori's two children.
That, too, is unsettling. Using her children to promote this book is utterly lacking in grace. It may sound generous and kind, but the reality is that most authors have day jobs. They can't support themselves otherwise. Various websites indicate that an author may receive 10% (or up to 15%) of the sale of each book. Amazon indicates the hardcover price for this book will be $16.95 (it is due out in August of 2016). If we round that to $17.00 and use the 10% figure, Flood could get $1.70 per book. How much of that $1.70 does she plan to send to the American Indian College Fund? Did she talk with Lori's parents (Lori's children live with them) about this donation?

Update, August 24, 2016: An anonymous commenter wrote to say that in the final copy of the book, Flood revised the Author's Note. It now reads as follows:
The Piestewa family is pleased that a percentage of the book's royalties will support the education of Lori's two children. An additional donation will be made to the American Indian College Fund.

Given that Flood specifically names many Navajo people who helped her with this book, the lack of naming of Hopi people makes me very uneasy. Without their names, it feels very much like Flood is exploiting a family and a people. For that reason alone, I can not recommend this book.

I could continue this review, pointing to problems in the ways Flood depicts Tess as a young woman conflicted over her biracial identity. Doing that would help other writers who are developing biracial characters, but I think I'll save that for a stand-alone post.

Soldier Sister, Fly Home by Nancy Bo Flood, published by Charlesbridge in 2016, is not recommended.

Update: January 26, 2016

There aren't nearly enough Native people in children's and young adult literature. It is a small community, and a good many of us write to each other, sharing news, concerns, etc. As I read Flood's book, I was talking with Joe Bruchac about author notes. What he says below is similar to what I said in my post about beta readers. I'm glad to share his remarks (with his permission) here:

I also am feeling increasingly leery about books which mention the names of people from whatever native nation the non-native person has written a book about as those who provided guidance in some unspecified manner.
For one, not every native person from a particular nation is an expert on that nation's culture, language, and history. I suggest doing what I have tried to do as much as possible, which is to work directly with tribal historians, linguists, and others from that particular nation who are regarded as expert, as elders, and spokespeople and so on-- recognized as such by their own tribal nation. (Such as Wayland Large, the tribal historian of the Shoshone Nation who reviewed my manuscript Sacajawea before it was published.)
I know of a few books in the past that mentioned supposedly American Indian people who were advisors, but were in fact not even Indian. One example is the infamous book brother eagle sister sky.
For another, when there is merely a list of names without any indication of what those people said or did to assist I wonder if there really was any actual significant input from those folks, or just a random conversation now and then.
I may have used this term before when discussing things with you but I find that a great number of books about American Indians by non- Indians tend to engage in what I call "cultural ventriloquism." They create a supposedly native character who is nothing more than a dummy through which the non-native authors voice is spoken. As a result, the worldview and the viewpoint is distinctly not Native American, but a mere pretense.

I first heard "cultural ventriloquism" back in the early 2000s, at a conference in Madison at the Cooperative Children's Book Center. Joe was talking, then, about Ann Rinaldi's My Heart Is On the Ground. 

I am still working on my next post about Flood's book, mulling over what I will emphasize. I've got several thoughts in my head. When that post is ready, I'll provide a link here, to it.

Update, September 1, 2016
I finished my second post on the book. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Ellen S. Cromwell's TALASI, A STORY OF TENDERNESS AND LOVE

Earlier this month I received a review copy of Talasi, A Story of Tenderness and Love. Written by Ellen S. Cromwell and illustrated by Desiree Sterbini, it purports to be about a Hopi child. The author is not Native.

Here's some of my notes:

Page 6

Talasi is the little girl's name, which, the author tells us "comes from corn tassel flowers that surround her pueblo home in Arizona."

I think readers are meant to think that her name may be a Hopi name. Let's pause, though, and think about that. The word tassel is an English word. The Hopi have their own language, and likely have a word for tassel. Wouldn't the child's name reflect that word rather than the English one?

As regular readers of American Indians in Children's Literature know, my grandfather is Hopi. I've been to Hopi. Homes on the mesas aren't surrounded by corn fields. The mesas are, so maybe that is what the author means, but written as-is, it reminds me more of farms in the midwest where homes are surrounded by corn fields.

Page 7

There's an error about materials used to build homes. The text says that "dwellings" (that word, by the way, sounds like an anthropologist, not a storyteller) are made from "adobe stone and clay." That ought to be "dried bricks and adobe clay" as stated in the "About the Hopis" at the end of the book.

We read that the best part of "multi-level living" is that Talasi can climb up and down a ladder. Sounds odd to me... let's think about a child in the midwest living in a two-story house. Is that child likely to say going up and down the stairs is the best thing about living in that multi-level home? I doubt it. Presenting that activity as a favorite thing for Talasi to do sounds very much like an outsider's imaginings of what life is like for a Hopi child. I suppose it is possible, but, not likely.

Page 10

The illustration shows Talasi and her grandmother, who sits in a rocking chair. The wall behind them has a six-paned glass window... which strikes me as an inconsistency. So does Talasi lying on the floor. It reminds me of a modern day house (again, in the Midwest) more than it does a Hopi home at one of the mesas. It also makes me wonder about the time period for this story.

On that page Talasi's grandmother tells her that she's going to move to a new home and that she'll go to a school to learn things that she (the grandmother) can no longer teach her. This foreshadows what is to come: Talasi's grandmother is going to die and upon her death, Talasi and her mom are going to move away to a city.

Page 14-15

On this page we have a double paged spread showing a city with tall buildings and bright lights. I wonder if it is Phoenix? And again I wonder about the time period for the story.

Page 16

Talasi goes to school but feels out of place. The text says that there are things to play with, but "no Katsina dolls to comfort her." Reading that, I hit the pause button. This, again, feels very much like an outsider voice. A "Katsina doll" isn't a plaything in the way that sentence suggests.

Page 18

Talasi brings a Katsina doll into the classroom. She wants to share it, and a story about it. I find that page especially troubling. It makes me wonder if Cromwell and Sterbini submitted this project to the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. The acknowledgements page in the front of the book thanks Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, the archivist at HCPO, for his "generous attention." His name there suggests that he endorsed Cromwell's book, but "generous attention" gives me pause. Given the care with which the HCPO protects Hopi culture from appropriation and misrepresentation, I doubt that HCPO approved what I see on page 18.

That said, the way that Talasi tells that story sounds--again--very much like an adult who is an outsider rather than how a Hopi child would speak.

***

I have too many concerns about the content of Talasi, A Story of Tenderness and Love. If I hear from any of the people in the Acknowledgements, telling me that they do recommend it, I'll be back to say so.

Debbie--have you seen... Sally M. Keehn's MOON OF TWO DARK HORSES

A reader wrote to ask me about Sally M. Keehn's Moon of Two Dark Horses. I'm adding it to my "Debbie--have you seen..." series. First published by Philomel in 1995, it is historical fiction about a friendship between Daniel (he's white) and Coshmoo (he's Delaware).

Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review. In that review I see that Coshmoo is the son of "the Delaware Indian Leader Queen Esther." Queen? I'm also curious about "Coshmoo." I think I need to take a look at this book.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Comparison: D'Aulaire's ABRAHAM LINCOLN 1939 and 2015

On December 1, 2015, Publisher's Weekly ran an article about Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire's Abraham Lincoln. For its 75th anniversary, it was reprinted with...
... minor modifications to the original art and text to reflect contemporary views about race politics and to reflect historical accuracy, citing two instances in the book, including one of a Native American cowering behind Lincoln, which they fixed to have him “standing erect.” 
That information was provided to Publisher's Weekly by Rea Berg of Beautiful Feet Books. In the "Note from the Publisher" in the back of the anniversary edition, Berg wrote:
"In this special edition we are pleased to present some minor modifications of the original art and text that more closely align to the spirit of Lincoln, the authors and their heirs, and this publishing house."
In addition to the changes to the Native content, significant changes have been made to the text and illustrations of African Americans. In my post, I am sharing the modifications to the Native content on one page (in an early post, I noted depictions of Native content on other pages, but those remain unchanged). As you'll see, I used a yellow highlighter to emphasize changes to the text. I begin with a photo of changes to the illustration on that one page. Later, I'll be back to analyze those changes. The pages in the books are not numbered.

***

This page is about Lincoln being chosen to serve as Captain of the Illinois militia. The year (1832) isn't mentioned in the original or the revision, and neither is Black Hawk's nation (Sac and Fox). You can see that the "peaceful old Indian" is standing more upright in the image on the right than he was in the original (on the left). I don't understand what difference it makes to change his posture. Do you?




ORIGINAL (1939)
His tribe had sold the land to the "paleface," but Black Hawk said: "Man-ee-do, the great spirit, gave us the land, it couldn't be sold."
75th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (2015)
His tribe had sold the land to the settlers, but Black Hawk said, "Man-ee-do, the great spirit, gave us the land, it couldn't be sold."


ORIGINAL (1939)
"Sold is sold," said the people of Illinois, and went to war to chase the Indians out.
75th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (2015)
"Sold is sold," said the people of Illinois, and they prepared for war. 


ORIGINAL (1939)
But his soldiers had never taken orders from any man before, and Captain Abe Lincoln struggled hard to make them obey him. That was all the fighting he had. For Black Hawk and his warriors fled before the soldiers.
75th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (2015)
But his soldiers had never taken orders from any man before, and Captain Abe Lincoln worked hard to keep discipline in camp. Struggling with unruly soldiers and battling hungry mosquitoes was all the fighting he had. For almost as soon as it began, the war was over.


ORIGINAL (1939
One day a peaceful old Indian came walking into camp.
75th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (2015)
One day a peaceful old Indian with a safe-conduct pass, came walking into camp...


ORIGINAL (1939)
The soldiers were angry and wanted to kill him, but Abe said, "Anyone who touches him must fight me first." Because Abe was the strongest, they had to obey.
Soon after that, Black Hawk was taken prisoner, and the Indian War was over. 
75th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (2015)
...and the soldiers rushed to kill him. But Abe, glaring at his men said, "Anyone who touches him must fight me first." When some of the men called Lincoln a coward, he responded, "Then choose your weapons!" And the men skulked away in the face of Abe's courage.

Debbie--have you seen... Carol Trembath's WATER WALKERS

A couple of weeks ago, a reader wrote to ask me about Carol Trembath's Water Walkers. Published in 2015 by Lakeside Publishing (I can't find any information on that publisher), the book makes me uneasy. I haven't read it and don't know if I will get it, but here's my thoughts based on what I have seen online.

The synopsis (from Amazon):
Water Walkers is the story of a Native American girl named Mai.  Her family members are walking around Lake Superior to raise awareness about the damage being done to the Great Lakes.  At first, Mai is told she is too little to go, but grandmother says, “Even little people can do big things.”  As Mai walks along the lakeside, she tries to find ways she can help.  Will the secret messages from the animals of the Peace Shield help her learn more about how to help Mother Earth?  How can Mai prove that she can become a good water walker?
Water Walkers is a tribute to the many Native American women and men who have dedicated themselves to walking miles around each of the Great Lakes to draw attention to the condition of our water and responsible usage.

My hunch? Trembath means well. The synopsis indicates the book is a tribute to Native people, but so many of these kinds of projects are shaped by an author's romantic embrace of Native people that shape the content of the project in ways that actually work against children gaining accurate information about Native people.

On her Facebook page, Trembath shares these words, which she says were written to her by Josephine Mandamin, a member and founder of Mother Earth Water Walkers:

“I have had misgivings about what you are doing. Many offerings have been made for an answer to my misgivings. In our culture we tell oral teachings or draw. In your culture, it is different. To that I give my respect. I have pondered on the reason why you are doing this. I pondered about ego, money, fame. What is it she wants, I asked? Finally, the response came:
‘It is for the Water. Simple—for the water.’
“I give my blessings for the water. Now I can rest easy.”


Clearly, Trembath sees that as an endorsement for her book, but Mandamin did not say "I give my blessing to your book." I interpret her blessing as one that she hopes will inspire people who read the book to think about the water and what water means to all of us. I urge writers to listen carefully to what Native people say to them.

Trembath's book is not listed anywhere on the Mother Earth Water Walkers pages as a resource, and I can't find anything at all like a "Peace Shield" there either.  On her website, Trembath says a bit more about the shield:
On the journey, she [Mai] meets the four animals of the Native American Peace Shield and finds ways to help the water.
She uses the generic "Native American" to describe an item that is significant to her story, but, my hunch is that the shield itself is something she made up. I wonder if the book specifies a tribal nation for Mai? If it does, then perhaps I can find a peace shield from that nation's pages.

At the end of the book, there's a couple of pages of activities. One of them is called "Literary Connections." It asks readers to read Brother Eagle Sister Sky and compare it with Trembath's book. To me, that is another indicator that Trembath has very little understanding of how to approach this project. Brother Eagle Sister Sky has been soundly criticized many times.

If I get a copy of the book, I'll be back with a review.

Update: January 14, 2016

A colleague sent me some information from her copy of the book:

The "Native American Peace Shield" is mentioned in author pages that precede the story. As I suspected, the "Native American Peace Shield" is not specific to a tribal nation. I'm finding it online, connected to a person who goes by the name of "Rainbow Eagle" who says he is "Okla-Choctaw" (which is an odd way to identify, if you are Choctaw) and a "Wisdom Keeper." Looking over his site, I think he (like Trembath) means well but what he does is best characterized as New Age, which I view as appropriation and misleading with respect to what people can learn about Native people.

In her note, the author says that the animals of the story "represent the four directions of the Native American Peace Shield: eagle, deer, bear and hare." These are the four animals on "Rainbow Eagle's" shield. He--and I assume Trembath (informed by him or his writings)--suggest that these animals mean the same thing to all the Native nations. That's not the case. It is similar to someone using papoose as the word for baby. We have hundreds of languages, which means there are hundreds of words for baby!

As noted above, the main character's name is Mai. The author says that her name means coyote. I assume she means it is a specific word from a specific Native language, but which one? She doesn't say. Being from the southwest and familiar with Native peoples of the southwest, that bit of information suggests it may be Navajo. The Navajo word for coyote is Ma'ii. Trembath says that coyote is a teacher. Most often he is called a trickster, and is male, not female.

Though I haven't read the book yet, the information I have is sufficient for me to say that I do not recommend Carol Trembath's book, and, I'm wary of what she'll do in her next book. She is working on another one about Mai.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Debbie--have you seen... Josephine Angelini's TRIAL BY FIRE

Update, Jan 5, 2017: -- I read Angelini's book. If I write a review, it will get a not recommended tag. Among the many reasons: inaccuracies. Lily (the main character) tells us there is an Algonquin tribe, and that she's "pretty sure there were no more Algonquin left in her world" (her world is modern day U.S.). Fact: There was not an Algonquin tribe. Another reason: overall, Angelini's book has a new-age stereotypical quality. 


__________

A reader wrote to me about Josephine Angelini's Trial By Fire. Published in 2014 by Square Fish (a Macmillan imprint), it is the first book in her Worldwalker Trilogy. Here's the synopsis (there were some typos in it that I corrected when pasting it):

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies make it increasingly difficult to live a normal life, and after a completely humiliating incident ruins her first (and perhaps only) real party, she's ready to disappear. "Come and be the most powerful person in the world." Suddenly, Lily finds herself in a different Salem. One overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women—including Lillian, this world's version of Lily. "It will be terrifying. It was for me." What made Lily weak at home, makes her extraordinary here. It also puts her in terrible danger. Faced with new responsibilities she can barely understand and a love she never expected, Lily is left with one question: How can she be the savior of this world when she is literally her own worst enemy?
Sounds compelling, doesn't it? The first six chapters are available online.

Lily's love interest, I gather, is Rowan who is an "Outlander." The Outlander's are the story's version of Native peoples in a Salem, Massachusetts of the future. Rowan is a healer. There's time travel as Lily goes from present day to that future time. Are there Native people in the present, too? I'm wondering...

If I read and review the book, I'll be back to point to my review.



Debbie--have you seen... WAKE OF VULTURES by Lila Bowen

I get a lot of email, Facebook messages, and tweets from people who wonder if I've read or reviewed a book they came across. I want to keep a record of those requests, and with the start of 2016, will load posts titled with "Debbie, have you seen... _____" If I get the book in question and have time to review it, I'll be back to direct readers to the review.

Today, a reader wrote to me about Lila Bowen's Wake of Vultures. It was published in 2015 by Orbit, which I think is part of Little Brown. The main character, Nettie, is "half-Injun, half-Black." She is fourteen years old, but the book was not reviewed by the children's or YA literature journals. If I get a copy, I may review it, but if you see reviews specific to the depiction of the Nettie or Native people, do let me know!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Kenneth Oppel's THE BOUNDLESS

A few days ago, I began to see Sujei Lugo's tweets about Kenneth Oppel's The Boundless. Intrigued, I got a copy from the library. Published in 2014 by Simon and Schuster, here's the synopsis:
The Boundless, the greatest train ever built, is on its maiden voyage across the country, and first-class passenger Will Everett is about to embark on the adventure of his life!
When Will ends up in possession of the key to a train car containing priceless treasures, he becomes the target of sinister figures from his past.
In order to survive, Will must join a traveling circus, enlisting the aid of Mr. Dorian, the ringmaster and leader of the troupe, and Maren, a girl his age who is an expert escape artist. With villains fast on their heels, can Will and Maren reach Will’s father and save The Boundless before someone winds up dead?
The country that train is crossing is Canada. In chapter one, Will ends up driving the final stake--a gold one--into the tracks, thereby completing the track in Craigellachie, presumably in 1885.

Let's step out of the book and look at a little bit of history.

The final stake connecting the eastern and western portions of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven into a railroad tie on November 7, 1885, in Craigellachie. Here's a map showing where it is, in British Columbia:



And here's a map from the website of the Canadian Museum of History, showing the route of the Canadian Pacific Railway:



Prior to the arrival of Europeans, all that land belonged to Native Nations.

In the US, the last spike of the Transcontinental Railroad was driven into the track in 1869. Train stories about railroads are popular. I read them with a critical eye, wondering if the author is going to provide readers with any information about what the railroads meant for Native people. They were, in short, a key reason land was taken from Native Nations. It is with that knowledge that I read books about railroads and trains.

The Boundless came out in 2014--the same year that Brian Floca's Locomotive won the Caldecott Medal.

The synopsis (above) for The Boundless doesn't mention anything about Native people, but the story Oppel gives us has a lot of Native content. Let's start with Mr. Dorian. We first meet him at the end of chapter one, when he captures a sasquatch. The year for that chapter is 1885. Chapter two picks up three years later (1888).

The next time we see Mr. Dorian is in chapter three, where, in his role as circus master, he talks to passengers about the train, saying:
Cut from the wilderness, these tracks take us from sea to sea, through landscapes scarcely seen by civilized men.
I was intrigued about Oppel's treatment of sasquatch in chapter one. The sasquatch Mr. Dorian captured becomes part of the circus (though it doesn't do anything in performances) and is on the train three years later. I wasn't keen on seeing that one captured and put in a cage because the sasquatch is in Native stories of tribes in the northwest. And, I didn't like reading "scarcely seen by civilized men" either because it suggests that the peoples of the northwest tribal nations were uncivilized. Reading that line, of course, reminded me of the grueling discussions about "civilized" Indians in The Hired Girl (those discussions took place on Heavy Medal and prompted me to do a stand-alone post, A Native Perspective on The Hired Girl).

Those two concerns jumped to a whole new level when I got to chapter seven and learned that Mr. Dorian is Native. The bad guy, Mr. Brogan, is looking for Will (the protagonist). Brogan thinks Dorian is hiding him and threatens to throw Dorian and the entire circus off the train. Dorian doesn't think Brogan has the authority to do that, and Brogan says (p. 124):
"You'd be surprised. And I don't take my orders from circus folk--especially half-breeds like you."
We're not supposed to like Brogan, so having him use "half breed" is supposed to provide us with a cue that the use of the phrase is not ok. Even so, I cringed when I read it. Such words--even when uttered by despicable characters--sting.

That said, it was hard for me to think of a Native person capturing a sasquatch and keeping it in a cage (he also wants to catch a Wendigo, which is also a problem), and it is hard for me to think that a Native person would say that Native homelands were "scarcely seen by civilized men." Would he think that? Maybe it is a script he uses as a circus ringmaster? A performance designed to stir up the imagination of the (white) audience? If so, Oppel should have given readers a clue about those words, but he didn't.

Either way, portraying Native peoples and our nations as "primitive" or "uncivilized" fits with white supremacy and ideas that we didn't know how to use the land (as Europeans used land), and therefore the land itself could simply be claimed by European nations and Europeans who knew what to do with it (by their definition, of course).

Back to the story...

Mr. Dorian doesn't like being called a "half breed" and calmly replies that he prefers the term Métis. Will overhears their conversation and thinks:
Having grown up in Winnipeg, Will is familiar with the Métis--the offspring of French settlers and Cree Indians--and the insults they endured, especially after their failed uprising.
Is what Will says accurate? Partially, but there's a lot more to it than that. And, is the "failed uprising" about Louis Riel? And... why use "uprising" to refer to that period of Métis activism? What image of comes to mind with the word "uprising"? Is it one like this? This is Riel and men who were, in the late 1860s/early 1870s, part of a provisional government he formed:

Source: http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/events/rielcouncillors.shtml 

Other words in what Will says about Métis are odd, too. Uprising is one, but so is "offspring." Technically, it does mean children, but why not have Will use children, or kids?

Skipping ahead now, to page 145 (chapter 8) where Maren (she's a main character, too) is showing Will around the train car where the circus performers practice. Specifically, they're looking at the trapeze artists (the train is huge):
Both men are lean and muscular. Their heads are bald except for a tuft of long hair at the back, which is gathered into three braids. 
Will asks Maren if they're Mohawk. She says yes, and that they're fearless, that heights mean nothing to them. I don't know about those three braids, but Oppel is definitely using what he knows about Mohawk steelworkers. Fearless, though? Nope.

In chapter nine, Will is headed up to the "colonist" cars which are overcrowded. The person who takes them through the cars tells them that (p. 177):
"These people are fortunate to get passage on the Boundless at all," Drurie says with a sniff. "They're the poorest of the poor, and they've washed up on the shores of our country to claim our land."

They're German, French, and Italian. Mr. Dorian replies to Drurie (he's white):
"My mother's people are Cree Indian. Perhaps it's people like you who have washed up on our shores. A stimulating thought, don't you think?"
Drurie ignores him, but let's pause. Remember what I pointed out about Dorian's use of "civilized" in chapter three? Dorian is expressing a very political point here, but didn't do so earlier. That is an inconsistency in his characterization. Of course, I like the point he makes here. That line gets at current political discussions about immigration.

There's more I could note (like the brownface Sujei Lugo pointed out), but I'll end with a brief discussion of the buffalo hunting scene. It takes place in chapter 12. The train has a shooting car, in which passengers can pay to use a rifle (provided by a steward) to shoot at wildlife they pass. Just at the moment that Will and Maren are in the shooting car, a herd of buffalo moves over a hill and toward the train. Passengers start shooting at them. Will thinks it unsportsmanlike. He's right, of course, but that activity was common on trains during that time. Mr. Dorian says (p. 251):
"This is how you exterminate a people," the ringmaster says bitterly, "You kill all their food."
Then, passengers see Indians riding behind the herd, driving the herd away from the train. Some have rifles and some have bows. The steward tries to get people to leave the car, but they don't want to. One man shouts (p. 252):
"Damn redskins! They're steering them away from us."
Angry, that man then takes aim at one of the Indians on horseback. Dorian grabs the rifle and tells the angry man that the Indians need those buffalo for food and hides. The angry man says he's helping them by shooting the buffalo. Dorian points out that the man was shooting at the Indians, and the man says:
"What's one less Indian?"
He's killed an instant later, by an arrow, and Dorian murmurs "one less white man." The steward manages to get everyone inside, where Will hears a man call out how they "showed those redskins."

Earlier, I talked about a bad-guy using "half-breed." Here, the people using "redskins" are not likable either, and that's supposed to help readers know that what those men are doing is not ok. I think it does that, but as before, such language stings. In this case, it is even worse.

I don't like The Boundless. Like many of Oppel's books, it has sold well. It got starred reviews from the major children's literature journals--stars, in my view, it does not merit. Given its inconsistencies and use of troubling ideas and phrases, I cannot recommend Oppel's The Boundless.