Recognizing Native American Heritage Month

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

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Cover from Goodreads

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

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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!

15 comments

  1. I read Seven Fallen Feathers by Ontario writer/journalist Tanya Talaga. My Canadian niece recommended it and suggested that it should be required reading for high school students there. I agree. I was surprised to read about the boarding schools and systemic racism, etc. only to discover what went on in the US. That was NEVER covered in any history class in high school or college. Disgraceful, and my ignorance embarrassing. I have a small book collection of the most impactful books I’ve read in my life and this is one of them. I highly recommend it. Published about 3 years ago.

  2. Ohhh yesssss!!!!

    I would also recommend reading some of Sherman Alexie’s poetry, specifically “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel” it’s 🔥 I would also recommend the movie Smoke Signals, which he wrote the screenplay for.

    On insta I am loving the Sioux Chef as well! I would also suggest checking out @protectmaunakea who are a super great source of information and support for understanding what’s going on between Hawaiians and the US government as there is on going argument as sacred land is trying to be protected.

    On Twitter I would suggest following @rebeccanagle and from her it is also easier to get connected to other up to date information in regards to Indigenous matters, and she also host a podcast if that is more your learning preference. @malindalowery has been another person educating me on Twitter.

    There is so much to relearn about the past but also so much to try to understand about what is happening now. So glad to see this post and some of the other suggest resources. I know there are so many other great people and resources out there but these were a few that immediately popped to mind!

  3. Love this. I’d add under the “least represented” line that they are also “most incarcerated”– something like a rate of 35%+ higher than the national average. I read an amazing zine about this, I’ll dig it out of my shelves to get you the details. :)

  4. ***One of my absolute favorites BROKEN: A LOVE STORY https://www.amazon.com/Broken-Love-Story-Lisa-Jones/dp/1416579079

    1-Leonard Peltierhttps://www.amazon.com/Prison-Writings-Life-Sun-Dance/dp/0312263805
    He’s a Native American man still in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. This is a must read

    2-Mary Crowdog

    I don’t remember a lot but I know I enjoyed it

    3-https://www.amazon.com/Crow-Dog-Generations-Sioux-Medicine/dp/0060926821
    Again, don’t remember a lot but I loved it.

    4-https://www.amazon.com/Bury-My-Heart-Wounded-Knee-ebook/dp/B009KY5OGC
    I haven’t read this but my friend said it’s a must read

    5-https://www.amazon.com/Black-Speaks-Play-Christopher-Sergel/dp/0871296152
    I loved this one

    This is one of my passions. I know there are more books. I will think of them and share with you as they come to mind. Once you start getting into these books, you will be continually amazed!💜

    • John Trudell is another big voice. He was at wounded knee with Leonard Peltier…#1 above.

      Winnona LaDuke is a current activist who is important

  5. Inconvenient Indian is one I recently read that I’d highly recommend. A different and well-researched narrative perspective that reads well and kind of an offhand humour approach that helps you process the serious content matter.

  6. LOVE this. Indigenous Sovereignty was an area I’ve been trying to read more about as well. I’m currently enjoying Winter Counts by David Heska Wabli Weidon which is wonderful and just beautifully written. Also, I’ve been working my way through How We Go Home: Voices from Indigenous North America is a collection of non-fiction personal accounts edited by Sara Sinclair. There is a ton of additional information at the end also! HIGHLY recommend both. I really enjoyed Alexie’s TATSOAPRI and need to read the others you reviewed. Good post!!

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