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25 books to read to educate yourself on First Nations History of the United States

In a recent podcast with author Julie Cajune, we talked about ways to educate ourselves about Indigenous history outside of school classrooms. She provided us with a fantastic book list to get us started.


Native writers share diverse experiences and perspectives of being Indian in their communities and the U.S. through novels and poetry. These books provide a very accessible entry into Native history and contemporary life. They offer a great starting point.


History



Our Way: A Parallel History dispels the myths, stereotypes, and absence of information about American Indian, Native Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian people in the master narrative of US history. For most of American history, stories of the country's Indigenous Peoples were either ignored or told by outsiders. This book corrects these errors, exploring the ways in which Indigenous cultures from every corner of the nation have influenced American society from the past into the present, reminding the reader that they have both shaped the US and continue to play a vital role in its story.


Significantly, Our Way: A Parallel History is a collaboration of Native scholars representing more than ten Indigenous nations, sharing their histories and their cultures. Each contributor, either an affiliate of an institution of higher education or a prominent Native leader, provides the reader with an inside account of tribal culture and heritage. The result is a comprehensive resource restoring the histories of Indigenous Peoples and their nations to their rightful place in the story of America.


The book covers topics such as:

-The Doctrine of Discovery

-Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act

-US American Indian Policy and Civil rights

-Blood Quantum

-Selling Hawaii

-Lots More


As Julie Cajune (Salish) notes in the preface, "I believe this collection of history, story, and reflection provokes and invites us to think and feel deeply about what it means for all of us to be human in our communities, nations, and beyond. After all, that is what a good story does.




Finalist for the 2023 National Book Award in Nonfiction - A National Bestseller A sweeping and overdue retelling of U.S. history that recognizes that Native Americans are essential to understanding the evolution of modern America "Eloquent and comprehensive. . . . In the book's sweeping synthesis, standard flashpoints of U.S. history take on new meaning."--Kathleen DuVal, Wall Street Journal "In accounts of American history, Indigenous peoples are often treated as largely incidental--either obstacles to be overcome or part of a narrative separate from the arc of nation-building. Blackhawk . . . [shows] that Native communities have, instead, been inseparable from the American story all along."--Washington Post Book World, "Books to Read in 2023" The most enduring feature of U.S. history is the presence of Native Americans, yet most histories focus on Europeans and their descendants. This long practice of ignoring Indigenous history is changing, however, with a new generation of scholars insists that any full American history address the struggle, survival, and resurgence of American Indian nations. Indigenous history is essential to understanding the evolution of modern America. Ned Blackhawk interweaves five centuries of Native and non-Native histories, from Spanish colonial exploration to the rise of Native American self-determination in the late twentieth century. In this transformative synthesis, he shows that - European colonization in the 1600s was never a predetermined success; - Native nations helped shape England's crisis of empire; - the first shots of the American Revolution were prompted by Indian affairs in the interior; - California Indians targeted by federally funded militias were among the first casualties of the Civil War; - the Union victory forever recalibrated Native communities across the West; - twentieth-century reservation activists refashioned American law and policy. Blackhawk's retelling of U.S. history acknowledges the enduring power, agency, and survival of Indigenous peoples, yielding a truer account of the United States and revealing anew the varied meanings of America.



A sweeping history--and counter-narrative--of Native American life from the Wounded Knee massacre to the present.


The received idea of Native American history--as promulgated by books like Dee Brown's mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee--has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well.


Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present for his nonfiction and novels, David Treuer has uncovered a different narrative. Because they did not disappear--and not despite but rather because of their intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence--the story of American Indians since the end of the nineteenth century to the present is one of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention.


In The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, Treuer melds history with reportage and memoir. Tracing the tribes' distinctive cultures from first contact, he explores how the depredations of each era spawned new modes of survival. The devastating seizures of land gave rise to increasingly sophisticated legal and political maneuvering that put the lie to the myth that Indians don't know or care about property. The forced assimilation of their children at government-run boarding schools incubated a unifying Native identity. Conscription in the US military and the pull of urban life brought Indians into the mainstream and modern times, even as it steered the emerging shape of self-rule and spawned a new generation of resistance. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is the essential, intimate story of a resilient people in a transformative era.



He Sapa Woihanble is a collection of writings by members of the Oak Lake Writers’ Society, a state-wide organization of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota writers. In it, the writers express through eloquent prose, poetry, and personal stories their profound spiritual relationships to He Sapa, the land known to many as the Black Hills of South Dakota. They speak of the beauty and power of that land, as well as the painful history of its appropriation by the United States.

The Oak Lake Writer’s Society is an outgrowth of the summer retreats for aspiring tribal writers that have taken place at South Dakota State University’s Oak Lake Field Station since 1993. The primary goal of the Society is to contribute to the strengthening and preservation of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota cultures through the development of culture-based writings.



Newly expanded, this gripping memoir is hailed as essential by the likes of Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, and ELLE magazine

Bad Indians--part tribal history, part lyric and intimate memoir--is essential reading for anyone seeking to learn about California Indian history, past and present. Widely adopted in classrooms and book clubs throughout the United States, Bad Indians--now reissued in significantly expanded form for its 10th anniversary--plumbs ancestry, survivance, and the cultural memory of Native California.

In this best-selling, now-classic memoir, Deborah A. Miranda tells stories of her Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen family and the experiences of California Indians more widely through oral histories, newspaper clippings, anthropological recordings, personal reflections, and poems. This anniversary edition includes several new poems and essays, as well as an extensive afterword, totaling more than fifty pages of new material. Wise, indignant, and playful all at once, Bad Indians is a beautiful and devastating read, and an indispensable book for anyone seeking a more just telling of American history.


The Way to Rainy Mountain recalls the journey of Tai-me, the sacred Sun Dance doll, and of Tai-me's people in three unique voices: the legendary, the historical, and the contemporary. It is also the personal journey of N. Scott Momaday, who on a pilgrimage to the grave of his Kiowa grandmother traversed the same route taken by his forebears and in so doing confronted his Kiowa heritage. It is an evocation of three things in particular: a landscape that is incomparable, a time that is gone forever, and the human spirit, which endures. Celebrating fifty years since its 1969 release, this new edition offers a moving new preface and invites a new generation of readers to explore the Kiowa myths, legends, and history with Pulitzer Prize-winning author N. Scott Momaday.



In 1897, as a white oligarchy made plans to allow the United States to annex Hawai'i, native Hawaiians organized a massive petition drive to protest. Ninety-five percent of the native population signed the petition, causing the annexation treaty to fail in the U.S. Senate. This event was unknown to many contemporary Hawaiians until Noenoe K. Silva rediscovered the petition in the process of researching this book. With few exceptions, histories of Hawai'i have been based exclusively on English-language sources. They have not taken into account the thousands of pages of newspapers, books, and letters written in the mother tongue of native Hawaiians. By rigorously analyzing many of these documents, Silva fills a crucial gap in the historical record. In so doing, she refutes the long-held idea that native Hawaiians passively accepted the erosion of their culture and loss of their nation, showing that they actively resisted political, economic, linguistic, and cultural domination. Drawing on Hawaiian-language texts, primarily newspapers produced in the nineteenth century and early twentieth, Silva demonstrates that print media was central to social communication, political organizing, and the perpetuation of Hawaiian language and culture. A powerful critique of colonial historiography, Aloha Betrayed provides a much-needed history of native Hawaiian resistance to American imperialism.



Jonathan Osorio investigates the effects of Western law on the national identity of Native Hawaiians in this impressive political history of the Kingdom of Hawaii from the onset of constitutional government in 1840 to the Bayonet Constitution of 1887, which effectively placed political power in the kingdom in the hands of white businessmen. Making extensive use of legislative texts, contemporary newspapers, and important works by Hawaiian historians and others, Osorio plots the course of events that transformed Hawaii from a traditional subsistence economy to a modern nation, taking into account the many individuals nearly forgotten by history who wrestled with each new political and social change. A final poignant chapter links past events with the struggle for Hawaiian sovereignty today.





A Pathway to Ecology and Spirit

Second Edition

A. Oscar Kawagley is a man of two worlds, walking the sometimes bewildering line between traditional Yupiaq culture and the Westernized Yupiaq life of today. In this study, Kawagley follows both memories of his Yupiaq grandmother, who raised him with the stories of the Bear Woman and respectful knowledge of the reciprocity of nature, and his own education in science as it is taught in Western schools. He hears the elders’ voices in Alaska and knows how to look for the weather and to use the land and its creatures with the most delicate care.


In a call to unite the two parts of his own and modern Yupiaq history, Kawagley proposes a way of teaching that incorporates all ways of knowing available in Yupiaq and Western science. He has traveled a long journey, but it ends where it began, in a fishing camp in southwestern Alaska, a home for his heart and spirit. The Second Edition examines changes that have impacted the Yupiaq and other Alaska Native communities, including implementation of cultural standards in indigenous education and the emergence of a holistic approach in the sciences.


Additional History Resources



Contemporary Commentary



A 50th anniversary revised edition of the beloved classic, God is Red.

First published in 1973, Vine Deloria, Jr.'s God Is Red remains the seminal work on Native American religious views, asking the reader to think about our species and our ultimate fate in novel ways. Celebrating five decades of publication with this new edition, Deloria's classic work reminds us to understand "that we are a part of nature, not a transcendent species with no responsibilities to the natural world." It is time again to listen to Vine Deloria, Jr.'s powerful voice, informing us about a spiritual life that is independent of Western religion and that reveres the interconnectedness of all living things.

This new edition includes critical essays engaging with the original material by well-known Indigenous thinkers - Philip Deloria, Suzan Shown Harjo, Daniel Wildcat, and David E. Wilkins. Inside, the book covers a wide variety of topics including: the problem of creation, the origin of religion, Death, and Human personality.

"God is Red should be read and re-read by Americans who want to understand why the United States keeps losing the peace, war after war." - Leslie Marmon Silko



Spirit & Reason is a collection of the works of one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century--Vine Deloria, Jr. Author of such classics as Red Earth, White Lies, and God is Red, Deloria takes readers on a momentous journey through Indian country and beyond by exploring some of the most important issues of the past three decades. The essays gathered here are wide-ranging and essential and include representative pieces from some of Deloria's most influential books, some of his lesser-known articles, and ten new pieces written especially for Spirit & Reason.

Tellingly, in the course of reviewing his body of work, Deloria found much that he had written in the past remained current and compelling because "people have not made much progress in resolving issues." Whether disputing theories of religion and science, examining the problems of modern education, or expounding on our understanding of the world, Deloria consistently urges readers toward an intimate connection with the world in which we live. For those familiar with Deloria's works as well as those discovering him for the first time, this essential anthology will teach, provoke, and enlighten in equal measure.



Challenging received American history and forging a new path for Native American studies

Addressing Native American Studies' past, present, and future, the essays in New Indians, Old Wars tackle the discipline head-on, presenting a radical revision of the popular view of the American West in the process. Instead of luxuriating in its past glories or accepting the widespread historians' view of the West as a shared place, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn argues that it should be fundamentally understood as stolen.

Firmly grounded in the reality of a painful past, Cook-Lynn understands the story of the American West as teaching the political language of land theft and tyranny. She argues that to remedy this situation, Native American studies must be considered and pursued as its own discipline, rather than as a subset of history or anthropology. She makes an impassioned claim that such a shift, not merely an institutional or theoretical change, could allow Native American studies to play an important role in defending the sovereignty of indigenous nations today.



This provocative collection of essays reveals the passionate voice of a Native American feminist intellectual. Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a poet and literary scholar, grapples with issues she encountered as a Native American in academia. She asks questions of critical importance to tribal people: who is telling their stories, where does cultural authority lie, and most important, how is it possible to develop an authentic tribal literary voice within the academic community?

In the title essay, "Why I Can't Read Wallace Stegner," Cook-Lynn objects to Stegner's portrayal of the American West in his fiction, contending that no other author has been more successful in serving the interests of the nation's fantasy about itself. When Stegner writes that "Western history sort of stopped at 1890," and when he claims the American West as his native land, Cook-Lynn argues, he negates the whole past, present, and future of the native peoples of the continent. Her other essays include discussion of such Native American writers as Michael Dorris, Ray Young Bear, and N. Scott Momaday; the importance of a tribal voice in academia, the risks to American Indian women in current law practices, the future of Indian Nationalism, and the defense of the land.

Cook-Lynn emphasizes that her essays move beyond the narrowly autobiographical, not just about gender and power, not just focused on multiculturalism and diversity, but are about intellectual and political issues that engage readers and writers in Native American studies. Studying the "Indian," Cook-Lynn reminds us, is not just an academic exercise but a matter of survival for the lifeways of tribal peoples. Her goal in these essays is to open conversations that can make tribal life and academic life more responsive to one another.


American Indians & the U.S. Constitution & Federal Law


Now in paperback, an important account of ten Supreme Court cases that changed the fate of Native Americans, providing the contemporary historical/political context of each case, and explaining how the decisions have adversely affected the cultural survival of Native people to this day.








Native America, Discovered and Conquered takes a fresh look at American history through the lens of the Doctrine of Discovery--the legal basis that Europeans and Americans used to lay claim to the land of the indigenous peoples they "discovered." Robert J. Miller illustrates how the American colonies used the Doctrine of Discovery against the Indian nations from 1606 forward. Thomas Jefferson used the doctrine to exert American authority in the Louisiana Territory, to win the Pacific Northwest from European rivals, and to "conquer" the Indian nations. In the broader sense, these efforts began with the Founding Fathers and with Thomas Jefferson's Corps of Discovery, and eventually the Doctrine of Discovery became part of American law, as it still is today. Miller shows how Manifest Destiny grew directly out of the legal elements and policies of the Doctrine of Discovery and how Native peoples, whose rights stood in the way of this destiny, were "discovered" and then "conquered." Miller's analysis of the principles of discovery brings a new perspective and valuable insights to the study of Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, the Louisiana Purchase, the Pacific Northwest, American expansionism, and U.S. Indian policy. This Bison Books edition includes a new afterword by the author.



In the early 1970s, the federal government began recognizing self-determination for American Indian nations. As sovereign entities, Indian nations have been able to establish policies concerning health care, education, religious freedom, law enforcement, gaming, and taxation. Yet these gains have not gone unchallenged. Starting in the late 1980s, states have tried to regulate and profit from casino gambling on Indian lands. Treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather remain hotly contested, and traditional religious practices have been denied protection. Tribal courts struggle with state and federal courts for jurisdiction.


David E. Wilkins and K. Tsianina Lomawaima discuss how the political rights and sovereign status of Indian nations have variously been respected, ignored, terminated, and unilaterally modified by federal lawmakers as a result of the ambivalent political and legal status of tribes under western law.



It is little known that the Revolutionary War and the writing of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights were strongly influenced by Native American traditions. European philosophers of the Enlightenment such as Jean Jacques Rousseau had begun pressing for democratic reforms in Europe on the basis of glowing reports by early settlers about the New World and its native inhabitants.

The founding fathers of the United States, in turn, were inspired to fight for independence and to create the great American documents of freedom through contact with Native American statesmen and exposure to American Indian societies based on individual freedom, representative government and the democratic union of tribes. Yet American Indians have never been acknowledged for their many contributions to the founding of the United States of America, and they have never been permitted to fully share the benefits of the freedoms they helped establish.

Exiled in the Land of the Free is a dramatic recounting of early American history and an eloquent call for reform that will not be ignored. Written by eight prominent Native American leaders and scholars, each a specialist in his area of expertise, Exiled in the Land of the Free: Democracy, Indian Nations and the U. S. Constitution is a landmark volume, sure to be read by generations to come.

An aspect of American history that has been ignored and denied for centuries is the extent to which we are indebted to Native Americans for the principles and practices on which our democratic institutions are based. This is the first work to recognize that legacy and trace our model of participatory democracy to its Native American roots. This book, which was written into the Congressional Record, has major implications for future relations between Indian tribes and the governments of the United States and other nations. It presents the strongest case ever made for Native American sovereignty. American history has finally been written–not from the European point of view–but from an Indian perspective. Exiled in the Land of the Free has been adopted for courses in twelve universities, to date.

“This is a chapter of history that we must all have the opportunity to learn, and a chapter that we, as Americans, must never forget.” (from the Preface by Senator Daniel K. Inouye)


Novels



A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, The Plague of Doves--the first part of a loose trilogy that includes the National Book Award-winning The Round House and LaRose--is a gripping novel about a long-unsolved crime in a small North Dakota town and how, years later, the consequences are still being felt by the community and a nearby Native American reservation.

Though generations have passed, the town of Pluto continues to be haunted by the murder of a farm family. Evelina Harp--part Ojibwe, part white--is an ambitious young girl whose grandfather, a repository of family and tribal history, harbors knowledge of the violent past. And Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, who bears witness, understands the weight of historical injustice better than anyone. Through the distinct and winning voices of three unforgettable narrators, the collective stories of two interwoven communities ultimately come together to reveal a final wrenching truth.

Bestselling author Louise Erdrich delves into the fraught waters of historical injustice and the impact of secrets kept too long.



The 25th-anniversary edition of "a novel that in the sweep and inevitability of its events...is a major contribution to Native American literature." (Wallace Stegner)

In the Two Medicine Territory of Montana, the Lone Eaters, a small band of Blackfeet Indians, are living their immemorial life. The men hunt and mount the occasional horse-taking raid or war party against the enemy Crow. The women tan the hides, sew the beadwork, and raise the children. But the year is 1870, and the whites are moving into their land. Fools Crow, a young warrior and medicine man, has seen the future and knows that the newcomers will punish resistance with swift retribution. First published to broad acclaim in 1986, Fools Crow is James Welch's stunningly evocative portrait of his people's bygone way of life.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.




"Exquisite evocation, in novelistic form, of the life of a female Dakota (Sioux) in the mid-nineteenth century, before whites settled the plains. . . . An unself-conscious and never precious or quaint pairing of scholarship and fiction."--Kirkus

When Blue Bird and her grandmother leave their family's camp to gather beans for the long, threatening winter, they inadvertently avoid the horrible fate that befalls the rest of the family. Luckily, the two women are adopted by a nearby Dakota community and are eventually integrated into their kinship circles. Ella Cara Deloria's tale follows Blue Bird and her daughter, Waterlily, through the intricate kinship practices that created unity among her people.

Waterlily, published after Deloria's death and generally viewed as the masterpiece of her career, offers a captivating glimpse into the daily life of the nineteenth-century Sioux.

This new Bison Books edition features an introduction by Susan Gardner and an index.




When sixteen-year-old Omishto, a member of the Taiga Tribe, witnesses her Aunt Ama kill a panther-an animal considered to be a sacred ancestor of the Taiga people-she is suddenly torn between her loyalties to her Westernized mother, who wants her to reject the ways of the tribe, and to Ama and her traditional people, for whom the killing of the panther takes on grave importance.












Poetry



This treasury of literature by Native American authors allows students to listen to the voices from America's first and oldest literature. More than fifty tribes from the U.S. and Canada are represented, giving readers opportunities to explore the diversity of authors' experiences through poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, including the oral tradition. Two maps provide geographical context for the readings, one showing tribal locations and the other showing the Trail of Tears.










This collection gathers poems from throughout Joy Harjo's twenty-eight-year career, beginning in 1973 in the age marked by the takeover at Wounded Knee and the rejuvenation of indigenous cultures in the world through poetry and music. How We Became Human explores its title question in poems of sustaining grace.












First published in 1983 and now considered a classic, She Had Some Horses is a powerful exploration of womanhood's most intimate moments. Joy Harjo's poems speak of women's despair, of their imprisonment and ruin at the hands of men and society, but also of their awakenings, power, and love.
















Highway 18 between Mission and Okreek, South Dakota, is a stretch of no more than eighteen miles, but late at night or in a blizzard it seems endless. "It feels like being somewhere between South Dakota and 'there, '" says Simon Ortiz, "perhaps at the farthest reaches of the galaxy." Acoma Pueblo poet Ortiz spent a winter in South Dakota, teaching at Sinte Gleska College on the Rosebud Lakota Sioux Reservation. The bitter cold and driving snow of a prairie winter were a reality commanding his attention through its absolute challenge to survival and the meaning of survival. Ortiz's way of dealing with the hard elements of winter was to write After and Before the Lightning, prose and verse poems that were his response to that long season between the thunderstorms of autumn and spring. "I needed a map of where I was and what I was doing in the cosmos, " he writes. In these poems, which he regards as a book-length poetic work, he charts the vast spaces of prairie and time that often seem indistinguishable. As he faces the reality of winter on the South Dakota reservation, he also confronts the harsh political reality for its Native community and culture and for Indian people everywhere. "Writing this poetry reconnected me to the wonder and awe of life, " Ortiz states emphatically. Readers will feel the reality of that wonder and awe - and the cold of that South Dakota winter - through the gentle ferocity of his words.




"What I do as a writer, teacher, and storyteller is to demystify language," says Simon Ortiz. Widely regarded as one of the country's most important Native American poets, Ortiz has led a thirty-year career marked by a fascination with language--and by a love of his people. This omnibus of three previous works offers old and new readers an appreciation of the fruits of his dedication.


Going for the Rain (1976) expresses closeness to a specific Native American way of life and its philosophy and is structured in the narrative form of a journey on the road of life. A Good Journey (1977), an evocation of Ortiz's constant awareness of his heritage, draws on the oral tradition of his Pueblo culture. Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land (1980)--revised for this volume--has its origins in his work as a laborer in the uranium industry and is intended as a political observation and statement about that industry's effects on Native American lands and lives.


In an introduction written for this volume, Ortiz tells of his boyhood in Acoma Pueblo, his early love for language, his education, and his exposure to the wider world. He traces his development as a writer, recalling his attraction to the Beats and his growing political awareness, especially a consciousness of his and other people's social struggle.


"Native American writers must have an individual and communally unified commitment to their art and its relationship to their indigenous culture and people," writes Ortiz. "Through our poetry, prose, and other written works that evoke love, respect, and responsibility, Native Americans may be able to help the United States of America to go beyond survival."


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