Like any cultural perspective, the Native American experience is not a monolith, nor is the literature written by Native authors. Even the appropriate terminology may differ depending on individual experience. While many refer to natives as Native Americans, the National Museum of the American Indian notes that it is best to use the individual tribal name, when possible. In the United States, Native American is the most common term (and as such, it’s the one we use here), but many Native Americans prefer the terms Native American or Native American. When in doubt, always ask people what they prefer to call.
Right now, many of us may be looking to support people of Indigenous, Native American and Indigenous descent during Native American Heritage Month, which we recognize in November. Also known as Alaskan and American Indian Heritage Month, it is an opportunity to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions and histories, as well as the important contributions of Indigenous peoples. It is also an opportunity to help raise awareness of the unique challenges they have faced throughout history and today, as well as how tribal citizens have worked to overcome these challenges.
And while it’s easy to get sucked into finding the right reading list, foundational text, the perfect material, we can forget that diversifying our library has to be fun. So these are not Native American educational books, or books that attempt to encapsulate the entirety of a complex and complicated culture, because even the best read cannot. These are just good books, period, written by native and native writers. When you’re done here, try our Wellness Book Club, as we can always use another addition to our TBR stack.
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Heart berries: a brief
Fans of Memory, look no further than this heartbreakingly beautiful elegy for lost parents that explores trauma, family, and a new perspective on memory and how much we can truly trust it. It is not a light reading, but an important one.
Recover the bones
While every book Jesmyn Ward writes is a triumph, this dazzling National Book Prize is a great place to start. As Hurricane Katrina builds up in the Gulf, tensions build up within a family already struggling with poverty. Try to remember to breathe as the story rushes to its dramatic conclusion.
My heart is a chainsaw
Fans of slasher movies will love following Jade, a half-Native American loner who draws on her extensive knowledge of slasher movies to make sense of the world. When people start disappearing from the bourgeois town of Proofrock where she lives, her skills could help keep her safe. Then again, maybe she already knows too much.
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Through investigative reporting, academic exploration, and intimate testimony, this book explores what we’ve all learned about what it means to be a girl and how we can break free from those expectations. It’s a rallying cry, breaking stereotypes and a lyrical journey all in one.
Over there: a novel
In this unforgettable novel, 12 characters converge at the Big Oakland Powwow as the story advances to its shocking conclusion. There’s newly sober Jacquie Red Feather, Dene Oxendene, who works at the powwow to honor the memory of her uncle, Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, who is going to see her nephew perform a traditional Indian dance for the very first time, and many others.
The Abducted: A Novel
Infused with Cherokee myths and legends, this tale of family members trying to go through the grief of losing one of their own to a police shootout will stay with you like a stubborn ghost. It’s a little scary, very gripping, and deeply rooted in the real dangers people face every day.
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The keeper of the seeds: a novel
Lose yourself in the generational story of Rosalie Iron Wing, who grew up immersed in the stories of her people of Dakhóta until her father passed away and she was sent to live with a foster family. Decades later, Rosalie is a widow and mother who returns to her childhood home to mourn what she lost and rediscover the strengths of her ancestors.
The way back to sweet grass: a novel
Follow the braided stories of Dale Ann, Theresa and Margie from the 1970s to today as they navigate love, loss and family in a changing world. Sweetgrass is both an allotment of land and a plant used in the Ojibway odissimaa ceremonial bag that contains the umbilical cord of a newborn baby in this book that mixes past and present and all of history and the legend therein.
What do you do when the ghost of your most annoying customer gets stuck in the bookstore where you work? This is what the formerly incarcerated Tookie needs to figure out as he tries to survive the COVID-19 pandemic and the calculus that is happening in Minneapolis as a result of police brutality. It’s a compelling read, slightly creepy, and even funny.
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America 1890 to the Present
History buffs, don’t miss this one. It is a balance of memoir and reportage that covers the history of the rich and varied cultures of Native Americans from their first contact with white settlers, and how degradations such as land seizures, massacres, forced assimilation and more have given rise to particularly powerful means of survival.
In a series of related stories, we grow up with Jordan Coolwater as he moves through his life, battling alcoholism, racism, and his family’s internal and cultural challenges in the Cherokee and Muscogee communities of Oklahoma. It’s a sharp, sometimes harsh look at what people go through and have to do to survive.
This intense, sometimes funny, and sometimes shocking book takes a look at what it means to grow up as a member of a Native American gang in Chicago. While this may not be appropriate reading for children, it is an important look at an under-recognized subset of our country’s Indigenous population.
Crazy Brave: a brief
This transcendent memoir by poet laureate Joy Harjo details her coming of age as the daughter of an abusive father, an imaginative daughter who finds solace in poetry, the natural world, and the arts. As she gets older and becomes a single mother, she eventually finds her voice and her place in the world.
Almanac of the Dead
Most of our country’s stories are told from the perspective of the white colonizers, just as almost all of the story comes from the perspective of the victors. Rather, in this magnificent book, we discover the lives, destinies, hopes and dreams of Aboriginal people.
Code Talker: A Novel About WWII Navajo Marines
While technically aimed at young adults, this WWII novel will resonate with older readers as well. They are Code Talkers, the Navajo people who conveyed messages to American troops in their native language. It is an important historical period, captured in captivating prose.
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