What better way to ring in November than adding some Native American literature to your reading list? November is Native American Heritage Month. This is a time to “celebrate the countless contributions of Native peoples past and present [and] honor the influence they have had on the advancement of our Nation,” said United States President Joseph Biden in his proclamation of the holiday.
Native American history has endured egregious erasure. Indigenous spaces and ecological practices are erased through cultural appropriation, the renaming of lands, and colonization’s residual effects on Indigenous peoples and communities.
The poverty rate among American Indians or Native Americans (AI/AN) in 2009 was 23.6% (2009 census), and 32.4% of the under-18 AI/AN population lives in poverty (NCAI Policy Research Center). Alcoholism mortality rates are 514% higher than the general population. Diabetes incidence is 177% higher, with the highest rate of Type 2 Diabetes of any specific population in the US. Tuberculosis incidence is 500% higher.
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) human-rights crisis further demonstrates the ongoing struggle of Native peoples on North American soil. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), murder is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous Women.
Native American Heritage Month presents an opportunity for education, cultural appreciation, awareness and celebration. It opens an inclusive space for a marginalized community. Quite simply, as the US president stated in his proclamation: “Our Nation cannot live up to the promise of our founding as long as inequities affecting Native Americans persist.”
Adding Native American literature to your collection is another way to celebrate and support Indigenous culture this month. Native American literature includes books written by Native peoples, ranging from true crime and ecology to contemporary and historical fiction. There’s something for every type of reader, though many narratives include harrowing accounts of the injustices inflicted on Indigenous communities. Read on for some suggestions of Native American literature selections to add to your reading list this November.
“Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Written by a mother, botanist, educator and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, “Braiding Sweetgrass” explores Indigenous wisdom, ecology and what we can learn from our environment. Lovers of nonfiction and plant life will enjoy Kimmerer’s dissection of sustainability and its intersection with Indigenous culture. If you like this book, also check out her first book “Gathering Moss.”
“There, There” by Tommy Orange
Orange’s debut novel, longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award, weaves in and out of the stories of 12 multigenerational Native Americans. Each inherits the tragedy and the beauty of the past. Follow these complex contemporary characters while they navigate their identities as urban Indians.
“Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country” by Sierra Crane Murdoch
Lovers of true crime will lap up Murdoch’s masterful work of literary journalism. In a genre bogged down by lurid and insensitive depictions – at times glorification – of violence, “Yellow Bird” grapples with generational trauma, land transformed by corporate exploitation and systematic violence. This book was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and is being adapted for a TV series.
“Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit” by Leslie Marmon Silko
This powerful collection of 22 essays written by one of America’s most poignant voices takes on border issues, modern life as a Native American, historical context and more. Her unique experience as a multiplatform writer, which includes writing novels, short stories, essays, poetry, film scripts and articles, lends her work a timeless and expansive quality.
“My Heart Is A Chainsaw” by Stephen Graham Jones
“My Heart Is a Chainsaw” is a stunning work of fiction that has appealed to both slasher movie fans and lovers of coming-of-age narratives. The book takes us through the life of Jade, a socially isolated half-Native American who decodes the world based on her obsessive knowledge of slasher films. But when members of her town begin to vanish, Jade needs her know-how to stay alive.
“We Are Dancing For You” by Cutcha Risling Baldy
This piercing account of Native feminism through the lens of a coming-of-age ceremony chronicles the importance of tradition, especially for a long-persecuted culture. Cutcha Risling Baldy takes us through the renewal of the Flower Dance using memory, museum archives, anthropological records and more. A beautiful read for anyone, but especially for young women, “We Are Dancing For You” challenges gender inequity and the persistent stigma surrounding menstruation and coming-of-age.
“Girlhood” by Melissa Febos
Febos mixes investigative reporting, academic exploration and personal accounts to critique our perception of being a girl and how to escape societal pressures. If you loved “We Are Dancing For You,” this broader examination of Native feminism will delve deeper into why we hold specific ideas about gender and how we can shed them. It’s a call to action – a book that empowers by breaking boundaries.
“The Removed” by Brandon Hobson
Based on Cherokee myths and legends, Hobson’s “The Removed” tells the story of a family working through grief. This book examines how a racially-motivated murder haunts and angers a community, even 15 years later. As the members of the Echota family struggle individually with the realities of Native life, their hold on the material world blurs with the spiritual world.
Hobson’s cerebral account of a family torn apart by loss, substance abuse, isolation and illness will unsettle any reader. But his writing presents an unshakable example of how generational trauma continues to wreak havoc on Native communities.
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