A call for more stories about and by Indigenous Americans.
November has been recognized as National Native American Heritage Month in the United States since 1990. In those short thirty-three years, the country's understanding and treatment of Indigenous peoples have evolved mostly for the better (for an overview understanding of that, read this). What has also evolved is the terminology for the group. Though there are multiple acceptable terms, I'm going to use Indigenous American, only because I am speaking of the generalized population and thus cannot use the names of any specific tribal groups, which is preferred by many Indigenous peoples.
Noteworthy progress in representation and leadership in storytelling from the last four years include the first Indigenous woman to serve as National Poet Laureate (Joy Harjo), the First Indigenous American to win a Caldecott Medal (Michaela Goade), the First Indigenous American To Receive an Academy Award (Wes Studi). And it would be wrong not to mention the critically acclaimed and much-anticipated release of the film adaptation of Killers of the Flower Moon, which makes great strides for bringing to light some of the huge injustices done to Indigenous Americans. Yet, as several Indigenous reviewers have noted, it is an imperfect example of the Osage Indian experience, because it doesn't center the Osage Indian perspective.
The lack of BIPOC storytellers bleeds into the publishing industry as well. The numbers are hard to pin down, but as of 2021, approximately .4% of authors self-identify as American Indian and Alaska Native. Another source states that in 2020, there were only 837 Native American authors registered in the United States. One more: the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) found that out of 3,453 books they received in 2022, only 54 were written by Indigenous American authors and only 59 were written about Indigenous American experiences.
On top of all this, the increase in book bans evinces a continuing distrust or fear of voices that have historically been othered.
We're here to tell you to read those (few) voices. Support their work. Learn from them. Tell your libraries, your schools, your organizations to buy them, recommend them, and talk about them.
Our recommendations list of new and new-ish nonfiction (with a couple of notable historical fiction picks) written by and about Indigenous Americans begins below. As always, if you have any other new books you’d like to recommend to add to the lists, email us.
TO LEARN MORE
IllumiNative. "IllumiNative is a Native woman-led racial and social justice organization dedicated to increasing the visibility of—and challenging the narrative about—Native peoples."
American Indians in Children's Literature. "Established in 2006 by Dr. Debbie Reese of Nambé Pueblo, American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL) provides critical analysis of Indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books. Dr. Jean Mendoza joined AICL as a co-editor in 2016."
Bookshop.org's growing list of books by Native and Indigenous Writers.
Becoming Story: A Journey Among Seasons, Places, Trees, and Ancestors
Products / Heyday Books
Birding While Indian: A Mixed-Blood Memoir
Thomas C Gannon
Products / Ohio State University Press
Born of Lakes and Plains: Mixed-Descent Peoples and the Making of the American West
Anne F Hyde
Products / W. W. Norton & Company
Catching the Light
Products / Yale University Press
Kelli Jo Ford
Products / Grove Press
The Earth Is All That Lasts: Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and the Last Stand of the Great Sioux Nation
Mark Lee Gardner
Products / Mariner Books
The Half-White Album
Cynthia J Sylvester
Products / University of New Mexico Press
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present
Products / Riverhead Books
Heating the Outdoors
Products / Book*hug Press
A History in Indigenous Voices: Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Oneida, Stockbridge, and Brothertown Interactions in the Removal Era
Products / Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Unbroken: My Fight for Survival, Hope, and Justice for Indigenous Women and Girls
Products / Greystone Books
Porchlight Book Company acknowledges that the land and waterways we occupy are on the ancestral homeland of Indigenous People, including the Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, and Menominee. We recognize that they were forcefully removed from their lands. In honoring the ancestral owners and stewards of these lands and waterways, we strive to be respectful stewards.