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There is substantial scholarship arguing that cultural artifacts—tools—are critical mediators of thought (for a review see Cole and Engestrom, 1993) that both reflect and affect cultural orientations (e.g. Morling & Lamoreaux, 2008). In this study we are interested in understanding cultural differences in children’s books with respect to constructions of nature-culture relations and exploring the possible roles these cultural artifacts may have in maintaining particular forms of nature-culture relations.
We focus specifically on the implicit and explicit epistemological orientations— the different ways in which people view, conceptualize, and engage with the world—embedded in children’s book illustrations. Previous research suggests that Native and non-Native authored texts present different scientific and cultural orientations to human-nature relationships (Medin & Bang, in press).
A coding scheme of 64 codes was developed a priori based on expected depictions of land-use and character-land interactions by two coders blind to the theory. Two grounded codes were added based upon prevalence of depictions during coding. The two coders then analyzed 88 children’s books (44 Native-authored and 44 non-Native authored) with the coding scheme. We developed inter-rater reliability by first calibrating coding with 3 books in each author groups. Then, the remaining books were coded individually. Chi-square tests were performed on all codes that were found to be coded reliably at 80% and higher.
We selected 44 Native- and 44 non- Native-authored books by 35 different Native authors and 41 different non-Native authors. For the non-Native authored and illustrated books, we first sampled the 65 highest selling children’s books listed on Amazon.com. For the Native books, we sampled from the Native-authored books recommended at Oyate.com, a website of a Native-operated literacy organization whose efficacy is supported by research (Taylor & Patterson, 2000).
Preliminary Findings and Implications
Preliminary findings are reported. Native authored books were more likely than non-Native authored books to depict human-deferent relations to land (e.g. “land is sacred”), X2(1, N = 88) = 22, p < .001. Non-Native authored books were more likely to have anthropomorphic characters X2(1, N = 88) = 19, p < .001. Finally, Native authored books were more likely to have settings in an identifiable North American region (e.g. “North”), X2(1, N = 88) = 17, p < .001. Ongoing analysis supports these trends.
These findings suggest that human-land relations are embedded within children’s books and that this relationship differs based on the epistemological orientation of the author/illustrator. These findings support on-going and more recent scholarship exploring land-based education (e.g. Calderon, 2014; Tuck & Gaztambide-Fernandez, 2014) and the ways in which Indigenous perspectives and futures are erased in curricular materials.
This work suggests that the teaching of literacy with dominant materials is more than children learning to read, it is encoding particular relations to land as a function of literacy development. This has implications in the fields of science, as children learn to “read” land from an epistemological orientation that both separates them from land and dominates them over land.