Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
National Humanities Medal
For thirty years Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve has written children's books with the intention of dispelling stereotypes and negative images of Native Americans. She has brought the richness of Native American culture and heritage to thousands of children.
Sneve began by thinking of her own children and what they were learning about their heritage. "There were so many inaccuracies and stereotypes in what my children were reading," she says. She recalls how her young son, anticipating a Native American uncle's visit from the Pine Ridge Reservation, lined up his friends on the driveway expecting to see an Indian chief. Her son was obviously disappointed when Sneve's uncle arrived in everyday street clothes. "I realized these stereotypes were affecting my own family," Sneve says.
So she set about making a change. Her first book, Jimmy Yellow Hawk, was published in 1972 and was followed by some twenty works of fiction and nonfiction. Sneve's books for children and adults that focus on Native American culture and heritage include High Elk's Treasure, The Chichi Hoohoo Bogeyman, and The Trickster and the Troll, an imaginative combination of Lakota and Norwegian folklore. Completing the Circle combines history, autobiography, and legend to tell the story of several generations of women in Sneve's family.
"I write from my own experience and about Native Americans I've known all my life." she says. "The characters are believable children who live on modern-day reservations. In my nonfiction I strive for accuracy and try to bring them up to contemporary times--not about people hunting buffaloes!" Sneve is the daughter of an Episcopal priest and a Lakota Sioux mother. She grew up on the Rosebud Reservation of South Dakota and was an English teacher and counselor in Rapid City public schools and at the Flandreau Indian School for forty years.
As a girl, Sneve says, she was a "big reader." In one rectory her family lived in, she came upon a 1912 set of The Book of Knowledge, an encyclopedia series that included selections of classic mythology and literature.
"Those books influenced me more than anything," she says. "They also helped me realize I could write. I've been interested in history and literature my whole life--even before I knew it was called the humanities. I hope my work with children will show them the importance it has in their lives as well."
Sneve's most recent book is Grandpa Was a Cowboy and an Indian, a collection of short stories.