There are currently 574 tribes recognized by the United States federal and state governments. Native American history and culture have historically suffered annihilation and genocide through US federal and state laws and treaties. It is now the month of November, and for those who do not know, it is Native American Heritage Month.
This Native American Heritage Month, take the time to honor and center Native voices and experiences (while we should do this every day). A great way to practice this is by reading and exposing ourselves to content and supporting content created by Native people and communities. If you are interested in reading more about particular Native American history and culture, this is a great website to start with.
With that in mind, let’s first take the time to acknowledge the land that we live on is Native land. Here is a very neat website if you are interested to find out which Native land you currently occupy. Just enter your zip code and you’ll discover the names of the tribes around your local area!
Now, here are a few books by Native writers that you can read for yourself or gift to loved ones:
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
I will never stop recommending Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz. One of my favorite books to ever exist, this is a very necessary poetry collection of contemporary Native American literature. Diaz herself is Mojave, enrolled in the Gila River Indian Community, and identifies as Akimel O’odham.
In Postcolonial Love Poem, Diaz is concerned with political and bodily autonomy. She writes from a place of dark and sensual tenderness, considering the emotional spectrums of grief and joy. The historically (through violence and pain) underrepresented bodies, specifically Native, dance with life through Diaz’s meticulous words. If you take away anything after reading this brilliant collection, take away the fact that Diaz actively chooses love for herself and the Native community because, within the context of historical diminishment and genocide, love is revolutionary.
The Beginning and End of Rape by Sarah Deer
Sarah Deer’s novel is academic nonfiction and highlights the ongoing sexual violence that Native American women experience at a disproportionate percentage. A necessary but extremely heavy read, The Beginning and End of Rape, traces and outlines the problem, abuse, and high risk of rape that Native women experience on a daily basis. Deer explains that reported rape cases are mishandled by Federal and Native courts and laws, making no visible change possible. This has largely to do with the way in which federal law places constraints on tribal law and allows for non-Native perpetrators to go unprosecuted in order to retain governmental authority over tribal governments. Deer herself is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) nation.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
This next recommendation echoes the concerns of Deer’s novel within a fictional rape case. Louise Erdrich is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians (she identifies as Ojibwe.
Erdrich’s The Round House is centered around the Coutts family that lives on a North Dakota reservation. The novel takes place in 1988 and is narrated by Joe Coutts, the 13-year-old son of Bazil Coutts, a tribal judge, and Geraldine Coutts. The center of the novel involves Joe seeking revenge against the man, a non-Native, who crossed tribal grounds to rape his mother. Through Joe’s perspective, Erdrich allows us to see the severe mishandling of rape cases reported by Native women and the way federal US law actively encroaches on tribal sovereign law. Like many of Erdrich’s novels, The Round House is told through gripping storytelling and is equally as compelling.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass is on my personal TBR list. Kimmerer is a botanist and through her identity as a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she draws on her Indigenous heritage when approaching nature. In her novel, she tells us that one of the most powerful voices that are unfortunately ignored belongs within the context of nature. Kimmerer makes it a point to establish the need to return to Indigenous teachings in order to awake a “wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world.”
Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson
This last book recommendation is also on my TBR list. Brandon Hobson is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation Tribe and his novel, Where the Dead Sit Talking, is a coming-of-age story. It is about a 15-year-old boy named Sequoyah who goes to live with a foster family after his mother is in jail. Dealing with the trauma stemmed from his mother’s long-term substance abuse, Sequoyah is a quiet boy, often drawing into himself until he meets 17-year-old Rosemary, another youth staying with a foster family. The novel deals with Native children in foster care systems and Native American identity.
I hope you take a look at these recommendations because as people in the US who live on Native land, we need to at the very least amplify and center Native American voices not only for Native American Heritage Month but every time of the year.
For more Native and Indigenous poetry recommendations, click here to take a look at the poetic talent of three poets from the Native/Indigenous community.