November is Native American Heritage Month, or as it is also referred to, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. This month is a time to celebrate and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. This month is also a good time to educate the general public about tribes and raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced. This includes both historically and in the present. So let's celebrate Native American heritage by reading Indigenous authors all month long. Here’s a list of books by Indigenous authors to get you started.
American Sunrise by Joy Harjo
In her latest collection, Joy Harjo returns to the Southeast where her ancestors, the Mvskoke people, were forcibly removed under the Indian Removal Act of 1830 to west of the Mississippi. The book opens with a map, one of many trails of tears. Harjo is extremely skilled at using short, deceptively simple lines and stanzas to create imagery that swells with emotion. As Harjo explores the grief and mourning of this forced exile, she also tells a story of erasure and survival, of personal and intergenerational loss, and of a new beginning.
Hope Matters by Lee Maracle, Columpa Bobb, and Tania Carter
This book is a collaboration between a celebrated poet, novelist, nonfiction writer and editor. This mix makes for a poetry collection that's a pleasure to read. Joyful and sad, charting colonial and familial beginnings, it sings with hope and reconciliation in its verse. Hope Matters is a welcome addition to Native American literature.
Eyes Bottle Dark With A Mouthful of Flowers by Jake Skeets
This debut collection from Skeets (Diné) is remarkable in every way. The photograph on the cover is an image of the author's uncle, who was killed not long after it was taken. Eyes Bottle Dark With a Mouthful of Flowers is brimming with poetic imagery and gripping prose. In content and in form, Skeets brings both queer and Indigenous ways of thinking and being to living. This book shines and glitters on every page. It marks the emergence of a major new poetic voice in Native American literature.
The Beadworkers by Beth Piatote
This debut collection of contemporary writing from writer and scholar Dr. Beth Piatote (Colville Confederated Tribes) ranges in form from short stories to poetry to plays. Some of the stories even include historical fiction narratives. No matter what form Piatote takes in her storytelling, the fiction here is gripping and totally readable. The stories here are wide-ranging, but include many perspectives of Indigenous people in North America.
Living on the Borderlines by Melissa Michal
Melissa Michal’s debut short story collection centers on people of Seneca descent. The stories and characters here differ widely and as the title implies, they dance along the borderlines of a colonialist and racist society. The familial relationships in these stories are strong and touching. Melissa Michal has created potent stories with disturbing and beautiful elements both. All of the characters here are full of depth and are complex. This book is one of the more underrated short story collections of the year.
Black Indian by Shonda Buchanan
Shonda Buchanan dives deep into her identity and inheritance with this shining memoir. The author was raised as a black girl, but told stories of her multiracial heritage throughout her childhood. This book shows readers how her life experience informed her sense of self. Told in stunning and poetic prose her story takes readers across landscapes and cultural sagas. The result is both a poignant personal narrative and a broader cultural one. Buchanan has truly gifted us with this beautiful and totally engrossing memoir that touches on the meanings of family, legacy, and self-identity.
Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s by Tiffany Midge
In this collection of short essays, the author uses humor to examine identity, feminism, privilege, and politics. All of this is done through her stories that span the personal (losing her mother) to the seemingly inane (the existence of pumpkin spice everything). The essays here mark a good balance between insight and an intuitive sense of humor. This book is full of writing that'll make you laugh, think, and feel deeply, no matter what your identity is.
Mamaskatch by Darrel J. McLeod
This book is a true story narrated in the first person by the author. It's told from his perspective, but includes many other characters. The narrative begins with a story of his mother and her escape from a Canadian residential school. The author writes about Catholicism throughout, first finding meaning in it, then rejecting it as white washing. He grows from a curious, loyal, and happy child and his life starts and stops in cycles. He writes touchingly about how whiteness and Catholicism negatively changed how gender nonconforming, trans, and sexually fluid people are viewed. Also, how they're treated in Indigenous communities, even within modern times.
Shapes of Native Nonfiction, edited by Elissa Washuta & Theresa Warburton
This collection of essays from established and new contemporary Indigenous writers simply sparkles. It includes pieces from well-known writers such as Terese Marie Mailhot, Tiffany Midge (whose Bury My Heart at Chuck E Cheese’s is on this list), Eden Robinson, Alicia Elliott, Laura Da´, Ernestine Hayes, and Deborah A. Miranda. This book is a must for fans of Indigenous authors. The editors named the four sections of the book after basket weaving craft: technique, coiling, plaiting and twining. This is a unique way to use literary pieces to form an experimental, innovative, lyrical and world-building narrative. In these pages, we witness storytelling as a way of developing new roads in Native nonfiction writing.
As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, From Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker
Dina Gilio-Whitaker is the co-author of this book along with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. In this short but dense story, Gilio-Whitaker brings her vast knowledge and experience to the page. The book opens with a detailed account of Standing Rock and moves outward, highlighting the ways in which western colonial expansion, the Industrial Revolution and the mainstream EJ movement continue to exclude, marginalize and harm First Nations people. Making connections between Indigenous health, sacred sites, and the leadership of Indigenous women, Gilio-Whitaker makes a complete and compelling argument to open the doors for indigenous people in the EJ movement.
Legacy: Trauma, Story, and Indigenous Healing by Suzanne Methot
Suzanne Methot (Nehiyawak) is the author of this beautifully written book that highlights healing from intergenerational trauma. Indigenous communities have higher rates of depression, addiction, and other chronic illnesses than other North Americans. The first sentence of the book reads, “Indigenous people do funerals really, really well.” Methot discusses damaging, toxic patterns of behavior, thought, and physical illness as a direct result of unresolved grief and loss. She points out the importance of storytelling in healing from trauma. These twisting stories have a transformational and emotional narrative that can facilitate healing. In clear and driven prose, the author has written a book that is both easy to follow and crucial to read.
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, adapted by Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States won the 2015 American Book Award. It remains a pillar text in telling the true indigenous history - without whitewashing. It's been recently adapted for YA and middle grade readers by Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza. This adaptation is a wonderful approach to writing history in a way that is accessible to young readers. It opens with a straightforward explanation about bias to Indigenous languages. It also uses images to great effect, from maps to photographs of Indigenous art and Indigenous resistance and activism. The book as a whole illustrates the history of colonialism and Indigenous communities, including mentioning that the democracy within Indigenous communities inspired key parts of the US Constitution. It includes “Did You Know” boxes and exercise questions. Overall, it reads like a very accessible textbook and a strong introduction to Indigenous history of North America for young readers.
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