In November each year, people become interested in American Indians. It originally had to do with – and still does to some extent – the fact that Thanksgiving happens in November. However since 1990, there has been a joint resolution by Congress, approved by the President, proclaiming November to be Native American (or American Indian and Alaska Native) Heritage Month. So people – typically teachers – become very interested in the Native peoples of the U.S. in November. Native people and organizations are asked if they can help educate their students, members, or employees and are happy to do it. It’s a benefit to Native peoples to have others know more than what they were taught in their high school history class or scouts lessons.
Well, if you are interested in learning more about Native peoples in November or all year long, here are some ideas in case you don’t know where to start. If you are able to visit with Native peoples, preferably in their own communities, that is the place to start. If you cannot do that, then you can always read books. I have many favorites but thought I would share just a few recommendations:
- If you just want the facts then I would start with “Tribal Nations and the United States: A Brief Introduction.” It is about 45 pages filled with rich infographics and beautiful photographs and much content for you to read and learn. There is a web version you can view and also a PDF to download if you want to share with others.
- Anything written by Vine Deloria, Jr. is more than worthwhile. If you don’t know who he is, that is where you start – do a Google search to learn more about him. He was a writer, activist, theologian, historian, lawyer, and teacher. I think his best book to start would be his 1969 “Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto.” In it, he breaks down stereotypes and destroys myths about Native peoples as it captures the story of growing Native power and activist efforts.
- “Like a Hurricane” by Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior covers similar ground as Deloria in “Custer Died for Your Sins” in terms of the activist movements in Indian Country but it extends beyond 1970 into critical events that shaped where
we are today.
- If you want to learn about an earlier history, then Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West,” is definitely worth reading. It was critically acclaimed when it was published in 1970 and two chapters were later adapted for an HBO film in 2007.
- Finally, here are just two recommendations for works of fiction. Michael Dorris’ debut novel and dubbed his best, “Yellow Raft in Blue Water” is the story of three generations of strong Native women set primarily in Montana. And just for fun, I recommend “The Indians Won” by Martin Cruz Smith as an alternate view of history. It is out of print but available on Amazon.
Now that I’ve written this piece, it has made me hungry to re-read some of my favorites so as I head on vacation I’m taking one or two with me. Enjoy learning!