Rethinking the Canon: A Contemporary Response to the Indian in the Cupboard

In 2020 Winter term 1, MLIS and FNCC student Xaanja Free created this video for the LIBR 520 Survey of Literature and Other Materials for Children. This piece analyzes the narrative of the “Indian in the Cupboard” by Lynne Reid Banks, a children’s book written in 1980 that became very popular at that time.

This analysis is presented from a critical Indigenous literacy perspective, which invites the readers to go beyond what they read on the page and consider the larger narrative in which a text is situated. This perspective asks us to think about the authorship and identity of the stories and teachings we trust as readers. It also asks readers to think critically about Indigenous representations (or lack thereof) within a text.

In this video, Xaanja discusses why this book is not acceptable by today’s standards for its language and derogatory descriptions of the ‘savage’ Indian. The book’s language was once acceptable by publishers and society in general. However, over time, this book has moved from being considered a children’s classic to become labelled as banned or biased with loss of circulation value in libraries. This is a reflection of an active social change that recognizes the harm of the identity of ‘the Indian’ that this book presents.

Xaanja explains that, since these books are meant for children, it is important to share worldviews to understand how perspectives of the ‘Indian’ have changed over time through education and literature resources like ‘Malian’s Song’, by Margaret M. Bruchac. She encourages libraries to include Indigenous books like ‘Malian’s Song’, to accompany banned or biased books by shelving companion texts together in response to negative stereotypes and provide an authentic response to questions posed in the book. Xaanja’s video and video handout can be permanently accessed on the Xwi7xwa library’s Subject Guide webpage.


Rethinking the Canon of Children’s Literature: A Contemporary Response to The “Savage” Indian in the Cupboard from Xaanja Free on Vimeo.




Xaanja Free. 2020. Rethinking the Canon of Children’s Literature: A Contemporary Response to The “Savage” Indian in the Cupboard. [Link]
Xaanja Free. 2020. Rethinking the Canon Handout. [Link]
UBC Xwi7xwa Library. Indigenous Children’s Literature Guide. [Link]
UBC Xwi7xwa Library. Critical Indigenous Literacy for Children’s Picture Books. [Link]

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