What to read during Native American Heritage Month

By Ivette de Assis-Wilson

November is Native American Heritage Month. Although Native Americans make less of 1% of our total population, we experience sounds and images associated with their culture everywhere: in advertising, town names, sports teams, etc. These iconic images and sounds are so embedded in our daily lives, that sometimes one may forget that those who we call “Native Americans” include a variety of Nations with very diverse communities. They have a long history that predates the Americas, a vibrant present marked by challenges and victories, and a future they hope to create based on respect, and recognition for their contributions.

            Here at the library we have created a new display of materials for the month of November to encourage everyone in the community to learn, appreciate and recognize Native American’s historical contributions, cultural traditions, and artistic sensibilities. Here are a few highlights of what you can find at the library.

If you are a history fan, check out “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann (970.011 Man). Unlike the myth that the Americas were a lightly populated wilderness before the arrival of Europeans, Mann gathers evidence that show a complex and well-populated pre-Columbian society. In “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West” (978.004 Bro), author Dee Brown tells the history of American Indians in the West during the late 19th century. This period parallels the history of American expansionism exemplified by displacement through forced relocations, and government warfare. The book was published for the first time in 1970, and remains relevant today. The “Atlas of Indian Nations” by Anton Treuer (970.004 Tre) is a comprehensive reference to Native Americans history and culture accompanied by extensive cartographical illustrations and photos. It’s a wonderful resource that will entice your intellectual curiosity.

Curious about Native Americans wisdom and scientific knowledge? “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” by Robin Wall Kimmerer (305.897 Kim) speaks of Native American’s traditional ecological knowledge, and our reciprocal relationship with the natural world. Another title we suggest is “Iwígara: American Indian Ethnobotanical Traditions and Science” by Enrique Salmón (581.63 Sal). Salmón departs from the belief that all life-forms are interconnected and share the same breath. Relying on knowledge that has been passed down for generations, he introduces readers to 80 plants valued by Native Americans and how those plants are use as food and medicine.

Now, if your passion is literature, we also have materials to offer you. “Living Nations. Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry” represents the voices of over 500 living indigenous Nations. Also, Joy Harjo, the first Native poet to serve as a U.S. Poet Laureate, is featured on our display with two of her anthologies: “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings” (811.54 Har) and “An American Sunrise” (811.6 Har). Both anthologies are highly recommended. Finally, the collections of poems by Natalie Díaz, “When My Brother Was an Aztec” (811.6 Dia) and “Postcolonial Love Poem” (811.6) offer an intimate (sometimes painful) view of Native Americans’ daily lives.

Let’s end our literary suggestions with some fictional items. “The Night Watchman” by Louise Erdrich (FIC Erd) is the 2021 Pulitzer Prize Winner for fiction, and a New York Times Bestseller. The story is based on the life of Erdrich’s grandfather. The novel explores themes of love, and death with an elegant prose punctuated by humor. Highly recommended. “There There” by Tommy Orange (FIC Ora) is the winner of the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. The story focuses on the lives of twelve characters, “Urban Indians” living in Oakland, California. It is at once fierce and devastating, funny and suspenseful. “There There” portrays an America that few of us are familiar with. A final recommendation is “Ceremony” by Leslie Marmon Silko (FIC Sil). It tells the story of Tayo, a veteran of WWII as he returns home to seek healing from his life experiences. Thirty years after its first publication the narrative still speaks to readers, and it is considered one of the greatest novels in (Native) American literature. Beautifully written!

There are many more items on our display to pique your interest. Stop by or give us a call at (765)362-2242, ext.117 and we will assist you in finding your next read. You may also contact us by email at Happy Fall Reads!

Ivette de Assis-Wilson is the Head of Reference and Local History at CDPL