DEI The Work: Taking Action – Letter to a Publisher

Last week there was a 40% off special from American Camp Association’s (ACA) bookstore. It was a book called 101 Bunk Activities – fun things to do with campers. How awesome. I clicked on the link and I saw this image.

Uh oh. I had this reaction: Oh my gosh, that makes me feel uncomfortable. With all the awareness of cultural appropriation and the DEI work Runoia has been doing to be fair, equitable, conscious of stereotypes, I kind of couldn’t believe what I was seeing: children with war paint on faces and paper head dresses.

With Alex’s prompt for me not to just click away from the page and move on with my day, I reached out to ACA for them to take a look instead of me saying “that’s not my problem”.  I wrote an email.

Hi! I appreciate your discount promotions. 

I looked at the book “101 Bunk Activities” and paused at the photo on the cover in relationship to microaggressions and stereotypes of Indigenous Americans. 

I just wanted to share that it is a bit out of touch with the work many of us are doing to be inclusive at our camps.

Screenshot attached. 

All my best, Pam

I found out that ACA contracts out its bookstore to a publisher in California. Here’s the response I got from the Publisher (not ACA).

Although I don’t agree with your comments about the cover, if/when we reprint the book, we’ll change the cover art, per your request. For my edification, I’d welcome you explaining why the current cover art entails 

micro-aggression. I have several close friends who are Native Americans, and they find no fault with the current cover art. 

James A. Peterson, PhD, FACSM

Publisher, Healthy Learning

Suddenly I doubted myself. I needed more support so I went to the Google. I found a blog “So your friend dressed up as an Indian, now what? “ This is a must read from almost ten years ago. Amazing. Just read it because it is written with conviction and humor and insight.

And a more recent blog “My Culture is not a Costume”. Also offering terrific insight and raises my own level of awareness.

Additionally, I reach out to Runoia’s  DEI consultant, Mary Franitza,  who has been doing DEI consulting work with us at Runoia.

She sent me an encouraging note and a few links including Pauline Turner Strong’s published paper on “The Mascot Slot” A glance at this academic opinion reminded me of the work of the former Chief of the Penobscot Nation, Chief Barry Dana. I spoke with him in spring of 2020 (honestly, I looked him up, called his number and I was leaving a message on his answering machine and he picked up – 45 minutes of heartfelt conversation ensued) about the name Runoia. Chief Dana has worked hard to get Stereotypical Native American Images for mascots out of Maine schools. Now his daughter Maulian Dana is also working on this effort and is the Penobscot Nation‘s Ambassador to the Maine State Government.

Mary also sent a couple of great links that is great for getting up to speed about Thanksgiving and schools and the common but inaccurate history of Thanksgiving and the activities in school:

And a great article to specific to headdresses written by a Métis woman and language instructor at the University of Alberta.

Recognizing that headdresses are specific to the Plains Nations and quite nuanced as only worn by native men of the Plains Nations who have earned the headdress. So, non native people dressing up in headdresses is disrespectful in the least and certainly cultural appropriation.

In response to why the cover art entails microaggression? It is disrespectful for campers to make headdresses and wear them as a costume. It is insulting to showcase campers doing an activity like dressing up in someone else’s culture.

It is hard to speak up. It is hard to be called out. I’d like to start over and “call-in” the publisher to help him to join all the camps making a difference in the lives of children from all over our world and meet a few of Native American friends.


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