That time of year when our favorite TV Shows are on hiatus and the summer heat has you searching for that perfect spot to sit ‘n read. With that in mind, we put together a great list of can’t-put-’em-down books by indigenous writers that will please even the most avid readers among us.
1. Two Old Women – Velma Wallis
Based on an Athabascan legend passed along from mother to daughter for many generations on the upper Yukon River in Alaska, this is the tragic and shocking story–with a surprise ending–of two elderly women abandoned by a migrating tribe that faces starvation brought on by unusually harsh Arctic weather and a shortage of fish and game.
2. The Lesser Blessed – Richard Van Camp
A fresh, funny look at growing up Native in the North. Larry is a Dogrib Indian growing up in the small northern town of Fort Simmer. His tongue, his hallucinations and his fantasies are hotter than the sun. At sixteen, he loves Iron Maiden, the North and Juliet Hope, the high school “tramp”. When Johnny Beck, a Metis from Hay River, moves to town, Larry is ready for almost anything.
3. Tracks – Louse Erdich
Set in North Dakota at a time in the past century when Indian tribes were struggling to keep what little remained of their lands, Tracks is a tale of passion and deep unrest. Over the course of ten crucial years, as tribal land and trust between people erode ceaselessly, men and women are pushed to the brink of their endurance—yet their pride and humor prohibit surrender. The reader will experience shock and pleasure in encountering characters that are compelling and rich in their vigor, clarity, and indomitable vitality.
4. Fast Cars and Frybread: Reports from the Rez – Gordon Johnson
Memories of Indian time on the rez. These essays are about fiestas with frybread and beans, storytelling, dancing, snow cones, dogfights, and sometimes human fights. They are about sweat lodges and funerals and the dangers of ”commod bod” (obesity caused by eating government surplus food). They are also about puppy love and the love of rock ‘n’ roll.
5. Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction
In this first-ever anthology of Indigenous science fiction Grace Dillon collects some of the finest examples of the craft with contributions by Native American, First Nations, Aboriginal Australian, and New Zealand Maori authors. The collection includes seminal authors such as Gerald Vizenor, historically important contributions often categorized as “magical realism” by authors like Leslie Marmon Silko and Sherman Alexie, and authors more recognizable to science fiction fans like William Sanders and Stephen Graham Jones. Dillon’s engaging introduction situates the pieces in the larger context of science fiction and its conventions.
6. Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story – LeAnne Howe
Miko Kings is set in Indian Territory’s queen city, Ada, Oklahoma, during the baseball fever of 1907, but moves back and forth from 1969, during the Vietnam War, to present-day Ada. The story centers on the lives of Hope Little Leader, a Choctaw pitcher for the Miko Kings, and Ezol Day, a postal clerk in Indian Territory who travels forward in time to tell stories to our present-day narrator. With Day’s help, the narrator pulls us into Indian boarding schools, such as the historical Hampton Normal School for Blacks and Indians in Virginia, where the novel’s legendary love story between Justina Maurepas—a character modeled after an influential Black educator—and Hope Little Leader, begins.
7. Pointing With Lips – Dana Lone Hill
Sincere Strongheart is a modern day rez chick and single mother of three, living on one of the poorest Indian reservations in America. The novel Pointing with Lips covers a week of her life in Pine Ridge, interacting with many unforgettable characters in her large family. Sincere’s story is funny, raw, sad, even suspenseful, but the main struggle lives inside her as she hopes to overcome the buried demons of her past.
8. Me ARTSY – Drew Hayden Taylor
Following the highly successful Me Funny and Me Sexy anthologies, Me Artsy answers these eternal questions and more. With essays from fourteen First Nations artists from a variety of disciplines, the collection provides insight into the paths that led each artist to pursue and develop his or her craft. The essays explore many common themes around the role of art in First Nations communities, including the importance of art for creating social change, the role of art in representing Native culture and the fusion of traditional and contemporary techniques. On a more personal level, the essays describe the significance of art in the lives of the contributors, along with their sometimes unlikely journeys to success, stories which are often touched with humour and humility.
9. Red Alert! Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge – Daniel R. Wildcat
“What the world needs today is a good dose of indigenous realism,” says Native American scholar Daniel R. Wildcat in this thoughtful, forward-looking treatise. The Native response to the environmental crisis facing our planet, Red Alert! seeks to debunk our civilization’s long-misguided perception that humankind is at odds with nature or that it exerts control over the natural world. Taking a hard look at the biggest problem that we face today—the damaging way we live on this earth—Wildcat draws upon ancient Native American wisdom and nature-centered beliefs to advocate a modern strategy to combat global warming. Inspiring and insightful, Red Alert! is a stirring call to action.
10. Winter in the Blood – James Welch
During his life, James Welch came to be regarded as a master of American prose, and his first novel, Winter in the Blood, is one of his most enduring works. The narrator of this beautiful, often disquieting novel is a young Native American man living on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana. Sensitive and self-destructive, he searches for something that will bind him to the lands of his ancestors but is haunted by personal tragedy, the dissolution of his once proud heritage, and Montana’s vast emptiness. Winter in the Blood is an evocative and unforgettable work of literature that will continue to move and inspire anyone who encounters it.
11. The Reason You Walk: A Memoir – Wab Kinew
When his father was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, Winnipeg broadcaster and musician Wab Kinew decided to spend a year reconnecting with the accomplished but distant aboriginal man who’d raised him. The Reason You Walk spans the year 2012, chronicling painful moments in the past and celebrating renewed hopes and dreams for the future. As Kinew revisits his own childhood in Winnipeg and on a reserve in Northern Ontario, he learns more about his father’s traumatic childhood at residential school.
12. Waterlily – Ella Cara Deloria
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.
13. Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko
Tayo, a World War II veteran of mixed ancestry, returns to the Laguna Pueblo Reservation. He is deeply scarred by his experience as a prisoner of the Japanese and further wounded by the rejection he encounters from his people. Only by immersing himself in the Indian past can he begin to regain the peace that was taken from him. Masterfully written, filled with the somber majesty of Pueblo myth, Ceremony is a work of enduring power.
14. House Made of Dawn – N. Scott Momaday
A young Native American, Abel has come home from a foreign war to find himself caught between two worlds. The first is the world of his father’s, wedding him to the rhythm of the seasons, the harsh beauty of the land, and the ancient rites and traditions of his people. But the other world — modern, industrial America — pulls at Abel, demanding his loyalty, claiming his soul, goading him into a destructive, compulsive cycle of dissipation and disgust. And the young man, torn in two, descends into hell.
15. Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact – Vine Deloria Jr.
Vine Deloria, Jr., leading Native American scholar and author of the best-selling God Is Red, addresses the conflict between mainstream scientific theory about our world and the ancestral worldview of Native Americans. Claiming that science has created a largely fictional scenario for American Indians in prehistoric North America, Deloria offers an alternative view of the continent’s history as seen through the eyes and memories of Native Americans. Further, he warns future generations of scientists not to repeat the ethnocentric omissions and fallacies of the past by dismissing Native oral tradition as mere legends.
16. The Dakota Prisoner of War Letters: Dakota Kaskapi Okicize Wowapi – Clifford Canku, Michael Simon
In April 1863—after the Dakota War of 1862, after the hanging of thirty-eight Dakota men in the largest mass execution in U.S. history— some 270 Dakota men were moved from Mankato, Minnesota, to a prison at Camp McClellan in Davenport, Iowa. Separated from their wives, children, and elder relatives, with inadequate shelter, they lived there for three long, wretched years. More than 120 men died. Desperate to connect with their families, many of these prisoners of war learned to write. Their letters, mostly addressed to the missionaries Stephen R. Riggs and Thomas S. Williamson, asked for information, for assistance, and for help sending and receiving news of their loved ones.
17. Shapeshift – Sherwin Bitsui
In words drawn from urban and Navajo perspectives, Sherwin Bitsui articulates the challenge a Native American person faces in reconciling his or her inherited history of lore and spirit with the coldness of postmodern civilization. Shapeshift is a collection of startling new poetry that explores the tensions between the worlds of nature and man. Through brief, imagistic poems interspersed with evocative longer narratives, it offers powerful perceptions of American culture and politics and their lack of spiritual grounding. Linking story, history, and voice, Shapeshift is laced with interweaving images—the gravitational pull of a fishbowl, the scent of burning hair, the trickle of motor oil from a harpooned log—that speak to the rich diversity of contemporary Diné writing.
18. Off The Path Vol. 2: An Anthology of 21st Century American Indian and Indigenous Writers
The indigenous experience is one of vast complexities all too frequently represented by just a select few storytellers. Although we are the descendants of the original inhabitants whose languages,songs, and narratives were first heard across these lands, our voices are oft drowned out by the sea of colonialization in the literary world. We are idle no more. Without missing a stride from the beautifully bleak and powerful Montana-based “Off the Path Volume I” anthology, “Off the Path Volume II” continues to forge a new trail to a place your mind has never been.
19. Fifty Miles from Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People
Born twenty-nine miles north of the arctic circle, William L. Iggiagruk Hensley was raised to live the seminomadic life that his Iñupiaq ancestors had lived for thousands of years. In this stirring memoir, he offers us a rare firsthand account of growing up Native Alaskan, and later, in the lower forty-eight, as a fearless advocate for Native land rights. In 1971, after years of tirelessly lobbying the United States government, he played a key role in a landmark victory that enabled the Inupiaq to take charge of their economic and political destiny.
20. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.