Native American Heritage Month Recommended Reading
Adult Fiction, Adult Non-fiction, Middle Grade Fiction, River Dog Recommends, Uncategorized, Young Adult Fantasy

River Dog Recommends: Native American Heritage Month Reads

Every month, River Dog Book Co. suggests recommended reading to celebrate that month’s nationally recognized holiday(s).
November = Native American Heritage Month


Starting in the early 1900s, several different Native men were instrumental in getting various individual days of recognition passed, but it wasn’t until 1990 that President George W. Bush officially declared November to be National Native American Heritage Month. It is unclear weather or not it is a coincidence that Thanksgiving occurs during this month, but for a more nuanced history of the holiday, read this New York Times article.

Sean Sherman, a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe and the 2018 James Beard Award winner for his cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, wrote a piece for TIME where he encourages people to “explore a deeper connection to what are called ‘American’ foods by understanding true Native-American histories, and begin using what grows naturally around us, and to support Native-American growers. There is no need to make Thanksgiving about a false past. It is so much better when it celebrates the beauty of the present.”

To find out more about the issues impacting Native America today, check out the National Congress of American Indians, the “oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaskan Native organization serving the broad interests of tribal governments and communities,” founded in 1944.

Now, here are some not-to-be-missed books by Native authors!

Descriptions are (mostly) from the publishers.

To order a book, click on the title, which is a link that takes you to the book on the River Dog Book Co. website.


Thanksgiving books by Native authors

These four books provide a more nuanced portrayal of the Thanksgiving and its history.

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message
by Chief Jake Swamp (Wolf Clan Mohawk), illustrated by Erwin Printup Jr. (Bear Clan, Cayuga Nation)

Giving Thanks is a special children’s version of the Thanksgiving Address, a message of gratitude that originated with the Native people of upstate New York and Canada and that is still spoken at ceremonial gatherings held by the Iroquois, or Six Nations.

This book is currently being reprinted by the publisher. To order, email orders(at)riverdogbookco(dot)com.

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving
by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)

When the Mayflower landed on the shores inhabited by the Wampanoag people in 1620, Squanto welcomed the newcomers and taught them how to survive. When a good harvest was gathered, the people feasted together–a tradition that continues 400 years later.

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving
by Catherine O’Neill Grace & Margaret A. Bruchac (Abenaki), with Plimoth Plantation

This book presents the real facts of the origins of Thanksgiving with a balanced English and Native American perspective, and features a reenactment by the Plimoth Plantation of the 1621 harvest.

A Feast for All Seasons: Traditional Native Peoples’ Cuisine
by Andrew George Jr. (Wet’suwet’en Nation, Canada) & Robert Gairns

Traditional North American Native peoples’ cuisine has existed for centuries, but its central tenet of respecting nature and its bounty have never been as timely as they are now. The 120 compiled aboriginal recipes feature ingredients from the land, sea, and sky, elements of an enduring cuisine that illustrate respect for the environment and its creatures and an acknowledgment of the spiritual power that food can have in our lives.

This book is only available in a used version.

Native American cookbooks

More Native cookbooks to try for the season!

Seminole Indian Recipes
by Joyce LaFray

Enjoy a taste of Florida’s history with this collection of hearty recipes inspired by Seminole cooking. Each dish evokes a time now past, when foods like venison, coontie, pumpkin, heart of palm, and guava were important parts of delicious feasts across the state. Seminole Indian Recipes includes southern favorites that have stood the test of time, such as hushpuppies and fried green tomatoes, alongside meals re-created from history. With pancakes, breads, fritters, stews, and puddings, these authentic Florida flavors are perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert!

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen
by Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota Sioux) with Beth Dooley

Here is real food–our indigenous American fruits and vegetables, the wild and foraged ingredients, game and fish, locally sourced, seasonal, “clean” ingredients and nose-to-tail cooking. A rich education and a delectable introduction to modern indigenous cuisine of the Dakota and Minnesota territories, with a vision and approach to food that travels well beyond those borders. Sherman shares his approach to creating boldly seasoned foods that are vibrant, healthful, at once elegant and easy.

This book is currently being reprinted by the publisher. To order, email orders(at)riverdogbookco(dot)com.

Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir
by Thomas Pecore Weso (Menominee)

As River Dog Book Co. is based in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, it would have been remiss to not include at least one book by a local Wisconsin Native author!

Menominee author Thomas Pecore Weso remembers colorful characters and stories as he recreates recipes from his northern Wisconsin childhood. His food memoir brings together his firsthand memories of reservation life from the 1950s through the 1970s and beyond.

Native American historical fiction picture books

These picture books present pieces of Native history and legend from before the first White settlers to the present.

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker
by Robbie Robertson (Mohawk, Cayuga), illustrated by David Shannon

Hiawatha was a strong and articulate Mohawk who was chosen to translate the Peacemaker’s message of unity for the five warring Iroquois nations during the 14th century. This message not only succeeded in uniting the tribes but also forever changed how the Iroquois governed themselves–a blueprint for democracy that would later inspire the authors of the U.S. Constitution.

Includes a CD featuring a new, original song written and performed by Robbie Robertson, lead guitarist and primary songwriter of the legendary musical group the Band.

Only the Names Remain: The Cherokee and the Trail of Tears
by Alex W. Bealer, illustrated by Kristina Rodanas

One of the few books listed here not written by a Native author, this book was originally published in 1972, based on an award-winning television documentary about the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their homelands in Georgia, all the way to Arkansas. The book concisely covers the period from centuries before the arrival of the first white man in 1540, to the removal of most traces of the Cherokee Nation from Georgia after 1837, through the Trail of Tears, a journey that took one life in four among those who attempted it.

Picture Books about Native authors

Tallchief: America’s Prima Ballerina
by Maria Tallchief (Osage), with Rosemary Wells, illustrations by Gary Kelley

The noted ballet dancer shares the story of her childhood growing up on an Osage Indian reservation in Oklahoma, where she took her first piano and dance lessons, and ends with 17-year old Tallchief leaving for New York to follow her dreams.

Thunder Boy Jr.
by Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene), illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Thunder Boy Jr. wants a normal name…one that’s all his own. Dad is known as big Thunder, but little thunder doesn’t want to share a name. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he’s done like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder. But just when Little Thunder thinks all hope is lost, dad picks the best name…Lightning! Their love will be loud and bright, and together they will light up the sky.


Middle Grade and YA Chapter Books

These middle grade and young adult chapter books showcase three different points of Native American history and contemporary life.

The Birchbark House
by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe)

Covering the same time period as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House on the Prairie series, in the first of a cycle of novels partly based on her own family history, Erdrich offers a compelling and original saga told from the point of view of a young Ojibwa girl on an island in Lake Superior in 1847.

Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War II
by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)

After being taught in a boarding school run by whites that Navajo is a useless language, Ned Begay and other Navajo men are recruited by the Marines to become Code Talkers, sending messages during World War II in their native tongue.


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene), art by Ellen Forney

This National Book Award-winner 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. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Adult Fiction by Native authors

These four books offer a range of adult fiction written by Native authors, including one of my favorite books of 2018.

War Dances
by Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene)

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

With bright insight into the minds of artists, entrepreneurs, fathers, husbands, and sons, Alexie populates his stories with average men on the brink of exceptional change: In the title story, a son recalls his father’s “natural Indian death” from alcohol and diabetes, just as he learns that he himself may have a brain tumor; “The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless,” dissects a vintage clothing store owner’s failing marriage and courtship of a Puma-clad stranger in airports across the country; and “Breaking and Entering” recounts a film editor’s fateful confrontation with an thieving adolescent.
Brazen and wise “War Dances” takes us to the heart of what it means to be human. The new beginnings, successes, mistakes, and regrets that make up our daily lives are laid bare in this wide-ranging new work that is quintessential.

Where the Dead Sit Talking
by Brandon Hobson (Cherokee)

A 2018 National Book Award Finalist

A spare, lyrical Native American coming of age story set in rural Oklahoma in the late 1980s. With his single mother in jail, Sequoyah, a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy, is placed in foster care with the Troutt family. Literally and figuratively scarred by his unstable upbringing, Sequoyah has spent years mostly keeping to himself, living with his emotions pressed deep below the surface–that is, until he meets the seventeen-year-old Rosemary, another youth staying with the Troutts. Sequoyah and Rosemary bond over their shared Native American backgrounds and tumultuous paths through the foster care system, but as Sequoyah’s feelings toward Rosemary deepen, the precariousness of their lives and the scars of their pasts threaten to undo them both.

The Round House
by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe)

National Book Award Winner

One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface because Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.

While his father, a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.

There There
by Tommy Orange (Cheyenne/Arapaho)

Broche’s Review: This was one of my favorite books published in 2018. It is heartbreaking and necessary. It’s raw, it’s powerful, it’s storytelling at its finest. It’s a woven tapestry of the urban Indian experience as few outside these communities have ever seen it. Vignettes follow 12 people through time and space as they make their way to the Big Oakland Powwow. Each person has their own struggles with identity, with life, with the powwow, with living, with loving, with addiction, with employment, with heart and soul and happiness and everything else that makes up the complicated human story, but most especially the complicated Indian experience in America. It’s a must-read.

Native American Autobiographies

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me
by Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene)

Family relationships are never simple. But Sherman Alexie’s bond with his mother Lillian was more complex than most. She plunged her family into chaos with a drinking habit, but shed her addiction when it was on the brink of costing her everything. She survived a violent past, but created an elaborate facade to hide the truth. She selflessly cared for strangers, but was often incapable of showering her children with the affection that they so desperately craved. She wanted a better life for her son, but it was only by leaving her behind that he could hope to achieve it. It’s these contradictions that made Lillian Alexie a beautiful, mercurial, abusive, intelligent, complicated, and very human woman. When she passed away, the incongruities that defined his mother shook Sherman and his remembrance of her. Grappling with the haunting ghosts of the past in the wake of loss, he responded the only way he knew how: he wrote. The result is a stunning memoir filled with raw, angry, funny, profane, tender memories of a childhood few can imagine, much less survive.

Mankiller: A Chief and Her People
by Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee)and Michael Wallis

In this spiritual, moving autobiography, Wilma Mankiller, former Chief of the Cherokee Nation and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, tells of her own history while also honoring and recounting the history of the Cherokees. Mankiller’s life unfolds against the backdrop of the dawning of the American Indian civil rights struggle, and her book becomes a quest to reclaim and preserve the great Native American values that form the foundation of our nation. Now featuring a new Afterword to the 2000 paperback reissue, this edition of Mankiller completely updates the author’s private and public life after 1994 and explores the recent political struggles of the Cherokee Nation.

This book is only available in a used version.

American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings
by Zitkala-Ša (Sioux)

Zitkala-Ša wrestled with the conflicting influences of American Indian and white culture throughout her life. Raised on a Sioux reservation, she was educated at boarding schools that enforced assimilation and was witness to major events in white-Indian relations in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Tapping her troubled personal history, Zitkala-Ša created stories that illuminate the tragedy and complexity of the American Indian experience. In evocative prose laced with political savvy, she forces new thinking about the perceptions, assumptions, and customs of both Sioux and white cultures and raises issues of assimilation, identity, and race relations that remain compelling today.

Native American History

Dive into any one of these books for a closer look at Native American history. While not all of these authors are Native, all of the works were written after extensive research and have been incredibly impactful.

Custer Died for Your Sins: Shadows from the Past and Portents for the Future
by Vine Deloria Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux)

In his new preface to the paperback edition published in 1988 (originally published in 1969), the author observes, “The Indian world has changed so substantially since the first publication of this book that some things contained in it seem new again.” Indeed, it seems that each generation of whites and Indians will have to read and reread Vine Deloria’s Manifesto for some time to come, before we absorb his special, ironic Indian point of view and what he tells us, with a great deal of humor, about U.S. race relations, federal bureaucracies, Christian churches, and social scientists. This book continues to be required reading for all Americans, whatever their special interest.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Today in the United States, there are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly three million people, descendants of the fifteen million Native people who once inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocidal program of the US settler-colonial regimen has largely been omitted from history. In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz adroitly challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the Indigenous peoples was colonialist and designed to seize the territories of the original inhabitants, displacing or eliminating them. And as Dunbar-Ortiz reveals, this policy was praised in popular culture, through writers like James Fenimore Cooper and Walt Whitman, and in the highest offices of government and the military. Shockingly, as the genocidal policy reached its zenith under President Andrew Jackson, its ruthlessness was best articulated by US Army general Thomas S. Jesup, who, in 1836, wrote of the Seminoles: “The country can be rid of them only by exterminating them.” Spanning more than four hundred years, this classic bottom-up peoples’ history radically reframes US history and explodes the silences that have haunted our national narrative.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West
by Dee Brown

Originally published in 1971, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is Dee Brown’s eloquent, fully documented account of the systematic destruction of the American Indian during the second half of the nineteenth century. Using council records, autobiographies, and firsthand descriptions, Brown allows the great chiefs and warriors of the Dakota, Ute, Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes to tell us in their own words of the battles, massacres, and broken treaties that finally left them demoralized and defeated. A unique and disturbing narrative told with force and clarity, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee changed forever our vision of how the West was really won. A national bestseller in hardcover for more than a year after its initial publication, it has sold almost four million copies and has been translated into seventeen languages.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
by David Grann

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. One of her relatives was shot. Another was poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more Osage were dying under mysterious circumstances, and many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll rose, the newly created FBI took up the case, and the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including a Native American agent who infiltrated the region, and together with the Osage began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.


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