This list of Read in Color recommended reads explores experiences from the Indigenous/Native American community. These titles are recommended by Little Free Library’s Diverse Books Advisory Group and others. The list of books includes options for early readers, middle and YA readers, and adults and advanced readers.
View all of the Read in Color Recommended Reading lists. These lists are far from exhaustive, but they offer a starting point for exploring different perspectives. We recognize that categorizing books can be limiting and are working to show the intersectionality within our reading lists.
Indigenous (Early Readers)
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Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder, translation by Gordon Jourdain (32 pp, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2018). Windy Girl is blessed with a vivid imagination. From Uncle she gathers stories of long-ago traditions, about dances and sharing and gratitude. Windy can tell such stories herself–about her dog, Itchy Boy, and the way he dances to request a treat and how he wriggles with joy in response to, well, just about everything. This playful story by Brenda Child is accompanied by a companion retelling in Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain and brought to life by Jonathan Thunder’s vibrant dreamscapes. Ages 3 – 7.
Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer
Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer by Brenda J. Child, illustrated by Jonathan Thunder, translation by Gordon Jourdain (32 pp, Millbrook Press, 2021). Mary Golda Ross designed classified airplanes and spacecraft as Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s first female engineer. Find out how her passion for math and the Cherokee values she was raised with shaped her life and work. Ages 7 – 11.
The Forever Sky
The Forever Sky by Thomas Peacock, illustrated by Annette S. Lee (32 pp, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2019). “Nooko’s spirit is there in the stars,” says Niigaanii to his younger brother, Bineshiinh, as they sprawl in a meadow, gazing skyward. Nooko was their grandmother, and they miss her. But Uncle helps them find comfort in the night sky, where all the stars have stories. Ages 3 – 7.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (48 pp, Roaring Brook Press, 2019). Told in lively and powerful verse by debut author Kevin Noble Maillard, Fry Bread is an evocative depiction of a modern Native American family, vibrantly illustrated by Pura Belpre Award winner and Caldecott Honoree Juana Martinez-Neal. Ages 3 – 6.
I Sang You Down from the Stars
I Sang You Down from the Stars by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, illustrated by Michaela Goade (32 pp, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2021). This unique baby book sings with Native cultural detail, while striking a universal chord in its celebration of the blossoming of love that comes with expecting and welcoming a new baby–with art by New York Times bestselling illustrator and Caldecott Medalist Michaela Goade. Ages 4 – 8.
Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (32 pp, Heartdrum, 2000). The cone-shaped jingles sewn to Grandma Wolfe’s dress sing tink, tink, tink, tink… Jenna loves the tradition of jingle dancing that has been shared over generations in her family and intertribal community. She hopes to dance at the next powwow. But with the day quickly approaching, she has a problem—how will her dress sing if it has no jingles? Ages 4 – 8.
Jo Jo Makoons
Jo Jo Makoons by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert (80 pp, Heartdrum, 2020). Hello/Boozhoo—meet Jo Jo Makoons! Full of pride, joy, and plenty of humor, this first book in an all-new chapter book series by Dawn Quigley celebrates a spunky young Ojibwe girl who loves who she is. Ages 6 – 10.
Johnny’s Pheasant by Cheryl Minnema, illustrated by Julie Flett (32 pp, University of Minnesota Press, 2019). “Pull over, Grandma! Hurry!” Johnny says. Grandma does, and Johnny runs to show her what he spotted near the ditch: a sleeping pheasant. What Grandma sees is a small feathery hump. This encountertakes a surprising turn in this sweetly serious and funny story of a Native American boy and his grandma. Ages 3 – 8.
Josie Dances by Denise Lajimodiere, illustrated by Angela Erdrich (32 pp, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2021). In this Ojibwe girl’s coming-of-age story, Denise Lajimodiere highlights her own daughter’s experience at powwow. Elegant artwork by Angela Erdrich features not only Josie and her family but also the animals and seasons and heartbeat of Aki, Mother Earth, and the traditions that link Josie to generations past and yet to come. Ages 3 – 7.
Kamik Takes the Lead
Kamik Takes the Lead by Darryl Baker, illustrated by Ali Hinch (32 pp, Inhabit Media, 2020). Jake and Kamik are finally ready to run their first dog sled race with a full team! But there is a lot to do to prepare, and Jake must follow his uncle’s lead if he and his dogs are going to be ready for the early spring race. Ages 5 – 7.
Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi!
Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! by Art Coulson, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (32 pp, Charlesbridge Publishing, 2021). Bo wants to find the perfect container to show off his traditional marbles for the Cherokee national Holiday. It needs to be just the right size: big enough to fit all the marbles, but not too big to fit in his family’s booth at the festival for the Cherokee National Holiday. And it needs to look good! With his grandmother’s help, Bo tries many containers until he finds just the right one. A playful exploration of volume and capacity featuring Native characters and a glossary of Cherokee words. Ages 3 – 6.
My Heart Fills with Happiness
My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith and Julie Flett (24 pp, Orca Book Publishers, 2018). The sun on your face. The smell of warm bannock baking in the oven. Holding the hand of someone you love. What fills your heart with happiness? This beautiful board book, with illustrations from celebrated artist Julie Flett, serves as a reminder for little ones and adults alike to reflect on and cherish the moments in life that bring us joy. Ages 3 – 5.
On the Trapline
On the Trapline by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett (48 pp, Tundra Books, 2021). A boy and Moshom, his grandpa, take a trip together to visit a place of great meaning to Moshom. A trapline is where people hunt and live off the land, and it was where Moshom grew up. As they embark on their northern journey, the child repeatedly asks his grandfather, Is this your trapline? Along the way, the boy finds himself imagining what life was like two generations ago — a life that appears to be both different from and similar to his life now. This is a heartfelt story about memory, imagination and intergenerational connection that perfectly captures the experience of a young child’s wonder as he is introduced to places and stories that hold meaning for his family. Ages 4 – 8.
The Range Eternal
The Range Eternal by Louise Erdich, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher (32 pp, University of Minnesota Press, 2020). At the heart of a home in the Turtle Mountains sits a woodstove. It is where Mama makes her good soup, where she cooks a potato for warming hands on icy mornings, where she heats a stone for warming cold toes at night. It warms the winter nights and keeps Windigo, the ice monster, at bay. On the stove’s blue enamel door are raised letters, The Range Eternal, and in the dancing flames through the window below, a child can see pictures: the range of the buffalo, the wolf and the bear, the eagles and herons and cranes: truly, the Range Eternal. Ages 5 – 9.
Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story
Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story by Sebastian Robertson, illustrated by Adam Gustavson (40 pp, Henry Holt and Co., 2014). Canadian guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson is known mainly for his central role in the musical group the Band. But how did he become one of Rolling Stone’s top 100 guitarists of all time? Written by his son, Sebastian, this is the story of a rock-and-roll legend’s journey through music, beginning when he was taught to play guitar at nine years old on a First Nation reserve. Ages 6 – 9.
Sharice’s Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman
Sharice’s Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman by Sharice Davids and Nancy K. Mays, illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley (40 pp, HarperCollins, 2021). This acclaimed picture book autobiography tells the triumphant story of Sharice Davids, one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, and the first LGBTQ congressperson to represent Kansas. Ages 4 – 8.
Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army
Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army by Art Coulson, illustrated by Nick Hardcastle (40 pp, Capstone Editions, 2018). In the autumn of 1912, the football team from Carlisle Indian Industrial School took the field at the U.S. Military Academy, home to the bigger, stronger, and better-equipped West Points Cadets. Sportswriters billed the game as a sort of rematch, pitting against each other the descendants of U.S. soldiers and American Indians who fought on the battlefield only 20 years earlier. But for lightning-fast Jim Thorpe and the other Carlisle players, that day’s game was about skill, strategy, and determination. Ages 6 – 10.
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac (32 pp, Charlesbridge, 2018). The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences. Written by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, this look at one group of Native Americans is appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah. Ages 3 – 7.
We Are Still Here
We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac (40 pp, Charlesbridge, 2018). Too often, Native American history is treated as a finished chapter instead of relevant and ongoing. This companion book to the award-winning We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga offers readers everything they never learned in school about Native American people’s past, present, and future. Precise, lyrical writing presents topics including: forced assimilation (such as boarding schools), land allotment and Native tribal reorganization, termination (the US government not recognizing tribes as nations), Native urban relocation (from reservations), self-determination (tribal self-empowerment), Native civil rights, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), religious freedom, economic development (including casino development), Native language revival efforts, cultural persistence, and nationhood. Ages 7 – 10.
We Are Water Protectors
We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (40 pp, Roaring Brook Press, 2020). Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, We Are Water Protectors issues an urgent rallying cry to safeguard the Earth’s water from harm and corruption―a bold and lyrical picture book written by Carole Lindstrom and vibrantly illustrated by Michaela Goade. Ages 3 – 6.
Indigenous (Middle Readers)
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An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Jean Mendoza, Debbie Reese and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (272 pp, Beacon Press, 2019). Going beyond the story of America as a country “discovered” by a few brave men in the “New World,” Indigenous human rights advocate Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz reveals the roles that settler colonialism and policies of American Indian genocide played in forming our national identity. Ages 12 and up.
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith (320 pp, Heartdrum, 2021). Edited by award-winning and bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith, this collection of intersecting stories by both new and veteran Native writers bursts with hope, joy, resilience, the strength of community, and Native pride. Ages 8 – 12.
Apple in the Middle
Apple in the Middle by Dawn Quigley (264 pp, North Dakota University, 2020). Apple Starkington turned her back on her Native American heritage the moment she was called a racial slur for someone of white and Indian descent. Too bad the white world doesnt accept her either. And so begins her quirky habits to gain acceptance. Bouncing in the middle of two cultures, Apple meets her Indian relatives, shatters Indian stereotypes, and learns what it means to find her place in a world divided by color. Ages 13 and up.
Apple (Skin to the Core)
Apple (Skin to the Core) by Eric Gansworth (352 pp, Levine Querido, 2020). The term “Apple” is a slur in Native communities across the country. It’s for someone supposedly “red on the outside, white on the inside.” In APPLE (SKIN TO THE CORE), Eric Gansworth tells his story, the story of his family—of Onondaga among Tuscaroras—of Native folks everywhere. From the horrible legacy of the government boarding schools, to a boy watching his siblings leave and return and leave again, to a young man fighting to be an artist who balances multiple worlds. Ages 12 and up.
The Barren Grounds
The Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga, Book One by David A. Robertson (256 pp, Puffin Books, 2021). Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home — until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Askí, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything — including them. Ages 10 and up.
Borders by Thomas King, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (192 pp, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2022). Borders is a masterfully told story of a boy and his mother whose road trip from Alberta to Salt Lake City is thwarted at the border when they identify their citizenship as Blackfoot. Refusing to identify as either American or Canadian first bars their entry into the US, and then their return into Canada. In the limbo between countries, they find power in their connection to their identity and to each other. Ages 8 – 12.
Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults
Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Monique Gray Smith and Robin Wall Kimmerer, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt (304 pp, Zest Books, 2022). Drawing from her experiences as an Indigenous scientist, botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer demonstrated how all living things–from strawberries and witch hazel to water lilies and lichen–provide us with gifts and lessons every day in her best-selling book Braiding Sweetgrass. Adapted for young adults by Monique Gray Smith, this new edition reinforces how wider ecological understanding stems from listening to the earth’s oldest teachers: the plants around us. With informative sidebars, reflection questions, and art from illustrator Nicole Neidhardt, Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults brings Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the lessons of plant life to a new generation. Ages 12 – 18.
The Case of Windy Lake
The Case of Windy Lake by Michael Hutchinson (160 pp, Second Story Press, 2019). Sam, Otter, Atim and Chickadee are four cousins growing up on the Windy Lake First Nation. When a visiting archeologist goes missing, the cousins decide to solve the mystery of his disappearance. In the midst of community conflict, family concerns and environmental protests, the four get busy following every lead. They’ll do what it takes to solve the case! Ages 9 – 12.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger (368 pp, Levine Querido, 2020). Elatsoe—Ellie for short—lives in an alternate contemporary America shaped by the ancestral magics and knowledge of its Indigenous and immigrant groups. She can raise the spirits of dead animals—most importantly, her ghost dog Kirby. When her beloved cousin dies, all signs point to a car crash, but his ghost tells her otherwise: He was murdered. Who killed him and how did he die? With the help of her family, her best friend Jay, and the memory great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother, Elatsoe, must track down the killer and unravel the mystery of this creepy town and its dark past. But will the nefarious townsfolk and a mysterious Doctor stop her before she gets started? Ages 12 and up.
Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition)
Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition) by Anton Treuer (400 pp, Levine Querido, 2021). From the acclaimed Ojibwe author and professor Anton Treuer comes an essential book of questions and answers for Native and non-Native young readers alike. Ranging from “Why is there such a fuss about nonnative people wearing Indian costumes for Halloween?” to “Why is it called a ‘traditional Indian fry bread taco’?” to “What’s it like for natives who don’t look native?” to “Why are Indians so often imagined rather than understood?”, and beyond, Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition) does exactly what its title says for young readers, in a style consistently thoughtful, personal, and engaging.
Ages 12 and up.
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (496 pp, Henry Holt, 2021). Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She dreams of a fresh start at college, but when family tragedy strikes, Daunis puts her future on hold to look after her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug. Ages 14 – 18.
Healer of the Water Monster
Healer of the Water Monster by Brian Young (368 pp, Heartdrum, 2021). When Nathan goes to visit his grandma, Nali, at her mobile summer home on the Navajo reservation, he knows he’s in for a pretty uneventful summer, with no electricity or cell service. Still, he loves spending time with Nali and with his uncle Jet, though it’s clear when Jet arrives that he brings his problems with him. One night, while lost in the nearby desert, Nathan finds someone extraordinary: a Holy Being from the Navajo Creation Story–a Water Monster–in need of help. Now Nathan must summon all his courage to save his new friend. With the help of other Navajo Holy Beings, Nathan is determined to save the Water Monster, and to support Uncle Jet in healing from his own pain. Ages 8 – 12.
Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (304 pp, Candlewick, 2020). Louise Wolf spends her time with her family and friends and working on the school newspaper. The paper’s staff find themselves with a major story to cover: the school musical director’s inclusive approach to casting The Wizard of Oz has been provoking backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town. New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith turns to realistic fiction with the thoughtful story of a Native teen navigating the complicated, confusing waters of high school— and first love. Ages 14 – 17.
I Can Make This Promise
I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day (272 pp, Quill Tree Books, 2019). All her life, Edie has known that her mom was adopted by a white couple. So, no matter how curious she might be about her Native American heritage, Edie is sure her family doesn’t have any answers. Until the day when she and her friends discover a box hidden in the attic. In her debut middle grade novel—inspired by her family’s history—Christine Day tells the story of a girl who uncovers her family’s secrets—and finds her own Native American identity. Ages 8 – 12.
If I Ever Get Out of Here
If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (368 pp, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015). Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him–people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. If George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home, will he still be his friend? Ages 12 and up.
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III (176 pp, Amulet Books, 2015). Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy, though you wouldn’t guess it by his name. Over summer break, Jimmy embarks on a journey with his grandfather, who tells him the story of Crazy Horse. Expertly intertwining fiction and nonfiction, celebrated Brulé Lakota author Joseph Marshall III chronicles the many heroic deeds of Crazy Horse, especially his taking up arms against the U.S. government. Ages 10 – 14.
Indian No More
Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell (223 pp, Tu Books, 2020). Regina Petit’s family has always been Umpqua, and living on the Grand Ronde Tribe’s reservation is all ten-year-old Regina has ever known. But when the federal government enacts a law that says Regina’s tribe no longer exists, Regina becomes “Indian no more” overnight. Ages 9 – 12.
The Marrow Thieves
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (260 pp, DCB, 2017). Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. For now, survival means staying hidden—but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves. Ages 13 – 17.
Powwow Summer by Nahanni Shingoose (216 pp, Lorimer Children & Teens, 2020). River is teased about her Indigenous heritage as a young girl, and she struggles with her identity. The highlight of her summer is attending the annual powwow with her new friends. After the powwow, River drinks too much and posts photos online that anger people, and she has her right to identify as an Indigenous person called into question. Ages 13 – 18.
The Sea in Winter
The Sea in Winter by Christine Day (272 pp, Heartdrum, 2021). It’s been a hard year for Maisie Cannon, ever since she hurt her leg and could not keep up with her ballet training and auditions. Her blended family is loving and supportive, but Maisie knows that they just can’t understand how hopeless she feels. With everything she’s dealing with, Maisie is not excited for their family midwinter road trip along the coast, near the Makah community where her mother grew up. Ages 8 – 12.
Sisters of the Neversea
Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia L. Smith (320 pp, Heartdrum, 2021). Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family–and their friendship? Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children, to a sea of merfolk, pirates, and a giant crocodile. A boy who calls himself Peter Pan. Ages 8 and up.
Indigenous (Adult Readers)
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Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir by Deborah A. Miranda (240 pp, Heyday Books, 2013). This beautiful and devastating book–part tribal history, part lyric and intimate memoir–should be required reading for anyone seeking to learn about California Indian history, past and present. Deborah A. Miranda tells stories of her Ohlone Costanoan Esselen family as well as the experience of California Indians as a whole through oral histories, newspaper clippings, anthropological recordings, personal reflections, and poems. The result is a work of literary art that is wise, angry, and playful all at once, a compilation that will break your heart and teach you to see the world anew.
Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s
Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s by Tiffany Midge (216 pp, Bison Books, 2019). Why is there no Native woman David Sedaris? Or Native Anne Lamott? Humor categories in publishing are packed with books by funny women and humorous sociocultural-political commentary—but no Native women. There are presumably more important concerns in Indian Country. More important than humor? Among the Diné/Navajo, a ceremony is held in honor of a baby’s first laugh. While the context is different, it nonetheless reminds us that laughter is precious, even sacred.
Even As We Breathe
Even As We Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle (240 pp, Fireside Industries, 2020). Nineteen-year-old Cowney Sequoyah yearns to escape his hometown of Cherokee, North Carolina, in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. When a summer job at Asheville’s luxurious Grove Park Inn and Resort brings him one step closer to escaping the hills that both cradle and suffocate him, he sees it as an opportunity. But soon, Cowney’s refuge becomes a cage when the daughter of one of the residents goes missing and he finds himself accused of abduction and murder.
Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask
Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask by Anton Treuer (184 pp, Borealis Books, 2012). What have you always wanted to know about Indians? Do you think you should already know the answers—or suspect that your questions may be offensive? In matter-of-fact responses to over 120 questions, both thoughtful and outrageous, modern and historical, Ojibwe scholar and cultural preservationist Anton Treuer gives a frank, funny, and sometimes personal tour of what’s up with Indians, anyway.
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer (528pp, Riverhead Books, 2019). The received idea of Native American history—as promulgated by books like Dee Brown’s mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee—has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well. Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present for his nonfiction and novels, David Treuer has uncovered a different narrative. Because they did not disappear—and not despite but rather because of their intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence—the story of American Indians since the end of the nineteenth century to the present is one of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention.
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (312 pp, Beacon Press, 2015). Today in the United States, there are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly three million people, descendants of the fifteen million Native people who once inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocidal program of the US settler-colonial regimen has largely been omitted from history. Now, for the first time, acclaimed historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortizoffers a history of the United States told from the perspective of Indigenous peoples and revealshow Native Americans, for centuries, actively resisted expansion of the US empire.
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott (256 pp, Melville House, 2020). The Mohawk phrase for depression can be roughly translated to “a mind spread out on the ground.” In this urgent and visceral work, Alicia Elliott explores how apt a description that is for the ongoing effects of personal, intergenerational, and colonial traumas she and so many Native people have experienced.
Murder on the Red River
Murder on the Red River by Marcie R. Rendon (208 pp, Cinco Puntos Press, 2017). Cash and Sheriff Wheaton make for a strange partnership. So there they are, staring at the dead Indian lying in the field. Soon Cash was dreaming about the dead man’s cheap house on the Red Lake Reservation, mother and kids waiting. She has that kind of power. That’s the place to start looking. There’s a long and dangerous way to go to find the men who killed him.
The Round House
The Round House by Louise Erdrich (368 pp, Harper Perennial, 2013). One of the most revered novelists of our time—a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life—Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family.
The Seed Keeper
The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson (372 pp, Milkweed Editions, 2021). A haunting novel spanning several generations, The Seed Keeper follows a Dakhóta family’s struggle to preserve their way of life, and their sacrifices to protect what matters most. Rosalie Iron Wing has grown up in the woods with her father, Ray, a former science teacher who tells her stories of plants, of the stars, of the origins of the Dakhóta people. Until, one morning, Ray doesn’t return from checking his traps. Told she has no family, Rosalie is sent to live with a foster family in nearby Mankato―where the reserved, bookish teenager meets rebellious Gaby Makespeace, in a friendship that transcends the damaged legacies they’ve inherited. On a winter’s day many years later, Rosalie returns to her childhood home. A widow and mother, she has spent the previous two decades on her white husband’s farm, finding solace in her garden even as the farm is threatened first by drought and then by a predatory chemical company. Now, grieving, Rosalie begins to confront the past, on a search for family, identity, and a community where she can finally belong.
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich (400 pp, Harper, 2021).
Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Sentence, asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store’s most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day, but she simply won’t leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading with murderous attention, must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and furious reckoning.
There There by Tommy Orange (304 pp, Vintage, 2019). Tommy Orange’s wondrous and shattering bestselling novel follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize. Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American—grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism.
When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Stories Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry
When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Stories Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry by Joy Harjo (496 pp, W.W. Norton & Company, 2020). This landmark anthology celebrates the indigenous peoples of North America, the first poets of this country, whose literary traditions stretch back centuries. Opening with a blessing from Pulitzer Prize–winner N. Scott Momaday, the book contains powerful introductions from contributing editors who represent the five geographically organized sections. Each section begins with a poem from traditional oral literatures and closes with emerging poets.
Where the Dead Sit Talking
Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson (288 pp, Soho Press, 2019). With his single mother in jail, Sequoyah, a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy, is placed in foster care with the Troutt family. Literally and figuratively scarred by his mother’s years of substance abuse, Sequoyah keeps mostly to himself. At least until he meets seventeen-year-old Rosemary. But as Sequoyah’s feelings toward Rosemary deepen, the precariousness of their lives and the scars of their pasts threaten to undo them both.