Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Celebrating Native American heritage

Throughout the school year the Library celebrates various ethnic and other groups which make up the rich fabric of the United States. Starting in September with Hispanic American Heritage Month and ending in May with Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Library staff creates wonderful displays of books and other artifacts that demonstrate the diversity of our country and state.

November is Native American Heritage Month and Redwood’s library has a direct connection to one of the United States’ most important Native Americans.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia website, Sequoyah was a Cherokee Indian who “invented a system of eighty-four to eighty-six characters that represented syllables in spoken Cherokee (hence it is a syllabary, not an alphabet)”which allowed the Cherokee language to be written for the first time. Sequoyah’s system was derided by assimilationist Cherokees as being impractical and an example of witchcraft. It took him at least 12 years but once he was able to teach his daughter to read and write using the system he had devised, others quickly saw the benefit of having a written language and the syllabary was put to use teaching the language in schools.

“The syllabary was rapidly adopted by a large number of Cherokees, making Sequoyah the only member of an illiterate group in human history to have single-handedly devised a successful system of writing.”The syllabary is still used, in modified form, to this day to write the Cherokee language.

Many libraries have given their online catalogs (OPAC) a catchy title which plays on their school name and library themes. For example, the catalog for the UC System is Melvyl, named for Melvyl Dewey, the famous librarian who devised the Dewey Decimal System of classification. SF State’s catalog is called InvestiGator (the school’s teams are the Gators), Sonoma State’s is Snoopy (named for the Peanuts character because of the connection with Charles Schulz).

When we got our web-based online catalog several years ago I was trying to come up with a title which would reflect all the various ways Redwood High School uses variations on the theme of the redwood tree, e.g. The Log (yearbook), The Bark (school newspaper), The Twig (daily bulletin), The Post (parent newsletter), and so forth. The library’s newsletter, and subsequently its blog, are called Library Leaves,which continues the tradition of a connection with the growing, living redwood tree. I pretty quickly realized that a great way to refer to the OPAC would be by naming it for this legendary person who had been honored in the scientific name of the redwood tree. (According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the Sequoia tree(coast redwood) was named in honor of Sequoyah in 1847.) His connection to written text and language was another compelling
reason to name the catalog for him.

I encourage all of you to use, and encourage your children to use, the online catalog.You can access the catalog at The catalog provides access to more than the physical items in the library. Recently,we uploaded thousands of records of periodicals from a couple of our online databases,which can now be accessed directly through links in the catalog. Try looking for the journal, Chinese Studies in History, for example. Click on the link which states “Available on EBSCOhost,” and then enter the user ID: redwoodhs and password: giants when asked. This is the kind of journal our students preparing for university, taking AP classes, and hopefully in the future, studying for the IB Diploma,will
depend on to succeed in their studies.

For more information on Sequoyah here are some recommendations from the New Georgia Encyclopedia site.
Traveller Bird. Tell Them They Lie: The Sequoyah Myth (Los Angeles:Westernlore, 1971).
Grant Forman. Sequoyah (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1938).
Stan Hoig. Sequoyah: The Cherokee Genius (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1995).
Henry Thompson Malone. Cherokees of the Old South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1956).
Kim Schlich and Victor Schlich. "Talking Leaves." American History. December 1995, 38-40.

Come by the Library any time to see what groups and themes we are currently celebrating.

Illustration credit: McKenney, Thomas and James Hall. History of the Indian Tribes of North America: with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs. Philadelphia: E.C. Biddle, 1836-1844. Penn Library Exhibitions. Web. 13 Oct. 2008.