November Is Native American Heritage Month
by Marialuisa Monda
November is Native American Heritage Month, a time period when we pay extra attention, honor, and reflection to Native American - First Nation peoples’ diverse, multifaceted, and rich history, ancestry, expressions, identities, and traditions.
We want to recognize that the Library, and all New Yorkers, are in the original homeland of the Lenape (Lenapehoking), Canarsee, Mohican, and other Indigenous tribes.*
This period is a time of celebration and joy but without denying the violent land dispossession, forced relocation, epidemics, forced assimilation, and sterilization that Native people endured, and that are still prevalent to this day.
A way to highlight their voices is to recommend books! And so, here are my top ten Native American/First Nation Authors (a hard thing to pick!):
Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians member
author of Warrior Girl Unearthed
Boulley is known for Firekeeper’s Daughter, but I chose her second book - another YA thriller and a follow up to the previous work! It follows Perry Firekeeper-Birch, who has to take a job with one of the tribal-affiliated businesses in the Kinomaage Summer Internship Program to pay back Aunt Daunis (the protagonist of the first book) after wrecking her car. However, she throws herself into the internship after hearing a long, open-secret history of stolen artifacts and sacred items as well as human remains. There is so much at stake, especially when there is a monster (or monsters) intent on stealing the lives of Anishinaabe women. However, Perry is a rule breaker and is not afraid to do what she can for her community, family, and identity.
enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians - a federally recognized tribe of Ojibwe people
author of The Antelope Wife: A Novel
This book is stunningly written with lyrical prose and infused with Native mysticism and legend, with haunting imagery full of grief and acceptance, but also full of warmth and joy! It is a powerful narration with multi-generational stories of two families that unfolds like an epic poem or like the strands of an unfinished quilt until you finally SEE that everything is interwoven as one living and constantly growing tapestry.
member of the Mvskoke Nation, and belongs to Oce Vpofv
All her work is recommended!
While she has written memoirs, plays, and music, Harjo is known for her poems that read like fables. Additionally, she served as the 23rd United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American to hold that honor - so well-deserved too! Fun fact: she is the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to have served three terms (after Robert Pinsky). My favorite poem by her is Remember, which we have as a picture book!
Robin Wall Kimmerer
Citizen Potawatomi Nation member
author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
This book is quintessential in understanding how everything in nature has a purpose and how interconnected we all are. A professor and botanist, Kimmerer displays the wonder of it all, a reminder that we must take better care of our planet because we “belong to the land.” The writing is also very beautiful like a poem.
Young Adult adaptation here.
Anishinabe/Métis/Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe Indians member
author of We Are Water Protectors
illustrated by Michaela Goade, Tlingit and Haida tribe member
This is a beautiful and inspiring picture book about how water is life and how we need to protect it. It blows my mind that this book was ever challenged or banned! Water is ESSENTIAL, and we need to take better care of our planet. Also, the illustrations are ripe with symbols and floral designs from the Ojibwe tribe, like the turtles (pictured throughout the book) alluding to Turtle Island, a name for Earth or North America used by many Indigenous peoples.
Kevin Noble Maillard
Seminole Nation of Oklahoma member
author of Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, who is Peruvian American
Another great picture book that has been challenged/banned! I love learning more about what fry bread is and how it means so much to various communities. Plus, when I visit a powwow one day (one that is open to the public), I’ll definitely try it. This book is a tribute to the beauty of family, community, and heritage, with lively and upbeat chant-style writing and a no-single-recipe-fits-all reminder.
Terese Marie Mailhot
author of Heart Berries: A Memoir
This is a punch-to-the-gut type of read because it gave me a better understanding of the continued trauma and mistreatment of Native women, which opened my eyes to how this is this not only the remnants of colonization, but also harmful narratives and structures that still persist to this day. It is a raw and unapologetic book that tells us to bear witness.
N. Scott Momaday
Kiowa Nation member
author of House Made of Dawn
Drunk and dazed, a young Native man by the name of Abel returns from fighting in World War II to the rez, torn between the reservation and the white world of settler colonialism that mirrors the estrangement and alienation of postwar America in general. At the same time, the major theme of the loss of cultural roots and the attempt to make the Native world disappear is - sadly - an ongoing crisis. It kind of reminds me of The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger) and Invisible Man (Ellison) with Native representation.
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Muscogee Creek Nation member
editor of Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids
This is an anthology of stories that are interconnected with Native families from Nations all over the continent gathering together at the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This book shows how celebrating culture and community, family joy and love is not just an act of freedom and pride, but also one of resilience. It is a very uplifting book!
Blackfeet and A'aninin tribes member
author of Winter in the Blood
This is an odyssey of a tale following our nameless, aimless narrator who initially tries to track down his runaway girlfriend, leading him on a journey of attempting to connect to his cultural identity and understanding his past. At times the book is disquieting but a relatable book of trying to find out who we are. It is a masterpiece!
“Being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere or nowhere.”
~ Tommy Orange (citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma), There There
*I have gathered this information from Native Land Ca., Patch - New York, SCRLC, Native Languages, and New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation. I did my best to be thorough and strive for accurate information.