By Lara K. Aase | In March, the American Indian Library Association rescinded its 2008 Best Young Adult Book Award for Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian . AILA, the voice of many non-Native as well as Indigenous librarians in North America, spoke up because we could not honorably remain silent. We are the oldest library association representing and led by American Indians, and we felt the need to make a statement on behalf of those who have not yet spoken. (https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2018/03/american-indian-library-association.html)
These are the reasons we rescinded the Award:
- The American Indian Library Association’s Youth Literature Awards are "a way to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians,” as an aspect of AILA’s mission "to improve library and information services for American Indians." The Awards go beyond merely naming the best creator of a particular art form in a certain year to representing the ideals of our multiple communities. We see Native authors and illustrators as role models for young people. The Youth Literature Awards would have no integrity if they promoted artists and art, but enabled abuse and personal harm. One book is not more significant than the people hurt by its author.
- Within our organization, we heard from a variety of reliable sources about Sherman Alexie’s actions against many people, especially other Native American writers. Alexie also admitted his wrongdoing publicly. We stand with those who had the courage to come forward about his behavior, and we support those who have chosen not to come forward. By taking a stance, AILA hopes to bring forth more voices to represent Native experiences and tell the stories that need to be told.
- We denounce sexual misconduct and coercion and we will do our part to prevent their being tolerated in the publishing industry. When living artists earn money for their work, people who buy it support those artists financially. Not only does an AILA Award imply “moral” support of an author or illustrator, it includes a separate monetary gift and also promotes actual sales, which result in financial gain for the book’s creator. Publishers explicitly refer to the AIYLA in promotional materials and on the covers of books. AILA did not feel comfortable having its name associated with Sherman Alexie’s at this time.
- Please remember, we have every right to rescind an award we give. AILA is answerable only to our members, and we choose whom we wish to honor. Our award is a privilege, not a right, and we support artists who deserve that privilege. Finally, making an independent decision about our own award runs parallel to Native sovereignty generally, and we request that the public respect our decision.
AILA no longer recognizes Alexie’s book as one deserving our Youth Literature Award. We are not, however, promoting its censorship. Librarians should have a collections and reconsideration policy that addresses acquisition and deaccession; advice for such a policy is available at http://www.ala.org/tools/challengesupport/selectionpolicytoolkit. We would like to point out that a growing number of Indigenous authors and illustrators are producing excellent work, often through small independent publishers, and we would encourage librarians to take advantage of this opportunity to seek out other Native American works to enjoy and purchase for your collections.
Lara K. Aase on behalf of the American Indian Library Association
An affiliate of the American Library Association (ALA), the American Indian Library Association is a membership action group that addresses the library-related needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Members are individuals and institutions interested in the development of programs to improve Indian library, cultural, and informational services in school, public, and research libraries on reservations. AILA is also committed to disseminating information about Indian cultures, languages, values, and information needs to the library community. AILA cosponsors an annual conference and holds a yearly business meeting in conjunction with the American Library Association annual meeting.