November 2023 is Native American Heritage Month! As we embrace the vibrant hues of autumn and the crisp scent of the changing seasons, it’s also important that we celebrate the diverse cultures, histories, and traditions of Native American people. What better way to engage with their stories than through the pages of a good book?
Books have the power to transport us, allowing us to experience the world through different lenses and understand the complexities of history, identity, and tradition. From captivating novels steeped in mythology to insightful memoirs that offer a glimpse into personal journeys, these titles provide an opportunity to learn, reflect, and appreciate the depth of Native American heritage. These literary gems not only offer a glimpse into the diverse worldviews, traditions, and stories of Native peoples, but also serve as a bridge, connecting readers across cultures. Here are 17 books to read during Native American Heritage Month 2023.
- Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah ($15)
Narrated from various family members’ viewpoints, this book delves into the life of Ever Geimausaddle. In the face of his father’s kidney failure, his mother’s challenges balancing work and caregiving, and the family’s constant relocations, Ever grapples with his own anger and instability while navigating his identity. As he matures, he finds strength within his family, enabling him not only to save himself but also to ensure a future for the next generation.
- Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley ($14)
18-year-old Daunis Fontaine is a biracial Native American girl from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan with roots in the Ojibwe and French communities. She doesn’t quite belong in her hometown or on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Still, she aspires to start fresh in college — but her plans are put on hold when she has to care for her ailing mother after a family tragedy.
Her life takes a turn when she becomes a witness to a murder, getting herself involved in an FBI investigation. She agrees to go undercover, delving into a world of dark secrets and personal risks, all the while wrestling with themes of identity, race, cultural heritage, and the complexities of navigating between two worlds.
- Never Whistle At Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst ($16)
This collection explores the Native American belief that whistling at night can summon evil spirits, a common belief shared by various cultures such as Native Hawaiians and Native Mexicans. These tales, curated by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst, delve into ghosts, curses, hauntings, and monstrous creatures, revealing complex family legacies and chilling acts of revenge. Through these shiver-inducing stories, readers are introduced to the rich imagination and survival instincts of Native peoples, offering a celebration of their resilience while cautioning against the consequences of an ill-advised whistle in the dark.
- The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson ($16)
Rosalie Iron Wing grew up in the woods with her father, learning about plants, stars, and the origins of the Dakota people. When her father disappears, Rosalie is sent to live with a foster family, where she befriends rebellious Gaby Makespeace.
Years later, as a widow and mother, Rosalie returns to her childhood home, seeking solace after her husband’s death. The novel explores her journey to confront the past, search for family and identity, and connect with her heritage, highlighting the resilience of women who have protected their traditions and seeds through generations of hardship and loss. Through the voices of four strong women, the story emphasizes the importance of reawakening and remembering our connections to our ancestors.
- The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline ($15)
In a dystopian future plagued by global warming, humanity has lost the ability to dream, leading to widespread madness. The only ones who can still dream are North America’s Native peoples, whose marrow holds the cure. However, obtaining this marrow means death for the unwilling donors. The story follows a 15-year-old and his companions as they fight for survival, seek to reunite with loved ones, and evade relentless recruiters aiming to bring them to marrow-stealing factories.
- The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie ($9)
Sherman Alexie’s darkly comic short story collection tells of characters from the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian community, navigating a harsh reality filled with government cheese and humiliation on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Despite the grim circumstances, the stories are infused with passion, affection, myth, and dreams.
The tales feature individuals like Victor, seeking solace between his unconscious parents as a child, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, a storyteller persisting in the face of indifference, and Jimmy Many Horses, battling cancer while crafting letters from his “death bed.” Against a backdrop of alcohol, accidents, laughter, and basketball, Alexie explores the divides between Native American and white communities, reservation life and urban living, as well as the struggle between modernity and traditional heritage.
- Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich ($12)
This is an epic tale set on a North Dakota Ojibwe reservation about the destinies of two families: the Kashpaws and the Lamartines. Louise Erdrich employs a diverse range of voices in each chapter, combining black humor, magic, injustice, and betrayal to create a tightly woven tapestry of life. The story is a blend of family bonds, love, and loyalty, weaving together elements of drama in a captivating work of fiction.
- Murder on the Red River by Marcie R. Rendon ($10)
A 19-year-old Ojibwe woman Renee, known as Cash, lives in Fargo, North Dakota and supports herself by driving trucks, playing pool, and solving crimes with her visions. Her only friend and guardian, Sheriff Wheaton, helps her navigate a broken foster care system. Together, they must solve a murder that spans cultures in a racially charged rural Midwest community. This critically acclaimed series debut explores themes of racism and oppression, earning recognition and awards. Cash’s character is set to continue her investigative journey in future publications in the Cash Blackbear Mystery series.
- To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose ($12)
In the first book of a captivating fantasy series, a young American Indian woman named Anequs discovers a dragon’s egg on the remote island of Masquapaug and forms a unique bond with the hatchling. Revered as Nampeshiweisit among her people, Anequs faces opposition from the Anglish conquerors, who have their own strict rules about raising dragons. Reluctantly allowed to attend an Anglish dragon school, Anequs must navigate social and academic challenges.
Despite her nontraditional background, Anequs is determined to learn and refuses to conform to societal expectations. As she and her dragon come of age, they realize their potential for change, recognizing the need to challenge the existing norms and reshape their world.
- The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones ($10)
Depicting the lives of four American Indian men haunted by a disturbing event from their youth, The Only Good Indians merges classic horror with sharp social commentary. Pursued by a vengeful entity, these childhood friends find themselves in a desperate fight for survival. As they are confronted by the cultural traditions they abandoned, the novel explores themes of revenge and the consequences of leaving behind one’s heritage.
- Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger ($17)
Imagine an alternate America infused with magic, monsters, and legends. Elatsoe, a young girl from the Lipan Apache tribe, possesses the ability to summon the ghosts of dead animals. When her cousin is mysteriously murdered in the town of Willowbee, Elatsoe sets out to uncover the truth, despite the town’s efforts to keep its dark secrets hidden. Armed with her unique skills, intelligence, and the support of her friends, she delves into the town’s facade, determined to protect her family and unveil the gruesome truths lurking beneath the surface.
- An American Sunrise: Poems by Joy Harjo ($13)
Joy Harjo reflects on the forced removal of the Mvskoke people from their ancestral lands to Oklahoma in the 1800s. Returning to her family’s homeland, Harjo engages in a conversation with history, exploring the blessings of her homeland alongside the painful disappearance of her people.
Through her personal experiences, including her mother’s death and involvement in the Native American rights movement, Harjo weaves a narrative that intertwines with tribal histories. Her poems celebrate beauty and resilience while highlighting the spirituality that connects her to her ancestors. In this powerful collection, Harjo confronts the quiet anger of living in the aftermath of injustice, carrying on her legacy as a storyteller and poet.
- There There by Tommy Orange ($14)
Twelve characters from Native American communities are on their way to the Big Oakland Powwow, and their lives are intertwined in ways they have yet to realize. Among them is Jacquie Red Feather, striving to reconnect with her family after getting sober, Dene Oxendene, honoring his late uncle by working at the powwow, and 14-year-old Orvil, preparing for his first traditional dance performance.
Through a chorus of voices, the book portrays the challenges faced by urban Native Americans, grappling with a complex history while embracing their beauty, spirituality, and resilience. Hailed as an instant classic, There There is a poignant and unflinching exploration of contemporary Native American experiences, offering an unforgettable glimpse into their lives.
- Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse ($17)
The winter solstice is a time usually marked by celebration in the city of Tova. It coincides with a solar eclipse, an event considered unbalancing by the Sun Priest. Simultaneously, a ship sets sail from a distant city bound for Tova. The ship’s captain, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek with the power to calm waters and manipulate minds. Onboard is a passenger named Serapio, described as harmless but bearing scars, blindness, and a mysterious destiny. Xiala is aware that those labeled harmless often conceal dark intentions, setting the stage for a tale of intrigue and suspense.
- The Sentence by Louise Erdrich ($17)
From November 2019 to November 2020, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted. The ghost is Flora, the store’s most irritating customer, who refuses to leave after her death on All Souls’ Day. Tookie, an employee who turned to reading during her years of incarceration, is tasked with solving this ghostly mystery. Amidst the haunting, Tookie also grapples with understanding the events in Minneapolis during a year marked by grief, astonishment, isolation, and intense societal reckoning.
- Winter in the Blood by James Welch ($13)
Winter in the Blood explores a young Native American’s quest for a connection to his ancestral lands amidst personal tragedies, the decline of his heritage, and the overwhelming emptiness of Montana. Written by James Welch, a celebrated American prose master, the novel delves into the protagonist’s sensitivity, self-destructive tendencies, and the haunting search for identity and belonging.
- Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse ($11)
In a post-apocalyptic world where much of the earth has drowned due to climate change, Dinétah, formerly the Navajo reservation, has survived and is now a land where gods, heroes, and monsters coexist. Maggie Hoskie, a supernaturally gifted monster hunter, is called upon to find a missing girl in a small town. As Maggie investigates, she realizes the monster she’s facing is far more terrifying than she anticipated. Reluctantly, she teams up with Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they delve into ancient legends, navigate the world of tricksters, and combat dark witchcraft. In their quest, Maggie must confront her own past in order to survive the challenges ahead.
This month, explore the captivating worlds crafted by Native American authors, shedding light on their resilience, wisdom, and cultural richness. Through these literary gems, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by First Peoples, their triumphs, and the enduring spirit that continues to shape their narratives.