November is Native American Heritage Month in the US. A lot of the conversation around race in this country focuses on anti-black racism, but that is not the only way racism manifests here (surprise!). Native American communities are some of the least visible, least funded, and least represented in the US. The more the rest of us, especially us white folks, learn about the land we live on and the issues that Native Americans face, the more we can help further the work Native Americans are already doing to achieve justice in their communities.
I’ll be honest – I don’t really know much about Native American history and issues. That’s something I’m working on rectifying. Part of this desire to learn, for me, is born out of the fact that my house sits on the original route of the Trail of Tears. I’m a direct benefactor of the racism and hate that forced the members of the Cherokee nation off their own land. Learning about Native American history and issues is literally – literally – the least I can do.
Below is a list of books and people I’ve learned from. It’s shamefully small. If you have a book, podcast, movie, or anything else that has taught you about Native American history and social issues, please leave it in the comments!
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
This is one of the most well-known memoirs by a Native American author. Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian who grew up on a reservation, and this book is a fictionalized account based on his childhood. One of my best friends recommended it to me years before I finally read it. I did a quick review of it back in 2018, and it taught me a lot about things that are apparently common across many Native American reservations today. Alcoholism, low-quality education, lack of utilities like good Internet, electricity, and running water are some, along with the loss of culture due to difficulties with land preservation and climate change. Many of these issues could be vastly improved if we bothered to make sure our congresspeople are funding Native Americans communities and listening to what they need, and that doesn’t happen nearly often enough.
This is a really good introduction to the modern Native American experience also because it is a quick, well-written read. Anyone from young teenagers on will enjoy this. And once you read Alexie, it gets easier to find similar books by and about Native Americans (thanks, algorithms). This is one I definitely need to own a copy of.
The Sioux Chef
The Sioux Chef is a team of people working to preserve traditional Native American recipes and culture through food. Sean Sherman founded the organization in 2014 and has more than 30 years of experience as a chef. In addition to the amazing preservation and food justice work they do, they now also have a cookbook. (This blog post is really just turning into a list of books I need to buy.)
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
This book is not by a Native American author, and I haven’t actually even finished it yet, but it’s still a good addition to this list. I’ve picked it up about three times now and have mde it farther through each time. It’s a heavy book, and not quite what I was expecting initially in that it’s more of a review/edit of history textbooks than a conversational history book. But the beginning especially shines a lot of light on the actual truth of how the US was established, and how well and truly we screwed over the Native American populations here. This is not a feel-good read by any means, and it is kind of a slog to get through. But if you’re looking for a more accurate, unvarnished, un-whitewashed version of American history, this is a good one to pick up.
Leave your recommendations in the comments if you have them!