November is Native American Heritage month, and here at the library we are celebrating with a collection of books put together with Native American voices in mind. The month has been celebrated since the 1990s, when George Bush released a landmark bill that began honoring America’s tribal population, which represented a major step in the celebration of Native American heritage. Today, November is a month that provides a platform for Native people to share their culture and traditions for overall awareness amongst other ethnic groups.
While you’ll see many books on our Native American Voices Display, from Adult to YA to Juvenile, many of the books chosen for this month are Native American authors writing fiction novels. So, we wanted to take some time to highlight some nonfiction titles that are also worth checking out in celebration of Native American Heritage month.
THE HEARTBEAT OF WOUNDED KNEE BY DAVID TREUER
A sweeping history—and counter-narrative—of Native American life from the Wounded Knee massacre to the present.
The received idea of Native American history—as promulgated by books like Dee Brown’s mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee—has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well.
Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present for his nonfiction and novels, David Treuer has uncovered a different narrative. Because they did not disappear—and not despite but rather because of their intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence—the story of American Indians since the end of the nineteenth century to the present is one of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention.
In The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, Treuer melds history with reportage and memoir. Tracing the tribes’ distinctive cultures from first contact, he explores how the depredations of each era spawned new modes of survival. The devastating seizures of land gave rise to increasingly sophisticated legal and political maneuvering that put the lie to the myth that Indians don’t know or care about property. The forced assimilation of their children at government-run boarding schools incubated a unifying Native identity. Conscription in the US military and the pull of urban life brought Indians into the mainstream and modern times, even as it steered the emerging shape of self-rule and spawned a new generation of resistance. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is the essential, intimate story of a resilient people in a transformative era.
IRL BY TOMMY PICO
IRL is a sweaty, summertime poem composed like a long text message, rooted in the epic tradition of A.R. Ammons, ancient Kumeyaay Bird Songs, and Beyoncé’s visual albums. It follows Teebs, a reservation-born, queer NDN weirdo, trying to figure out his impulses/desires/history in the midst of Brooklyn rooftops, privacy in the age of the Internet, street harassment, suicide, boys boys boys, literature, colonialism, religion, leaving one’s 20s, and a love/hate relationship with English. He’s plagued by an indecision, unsure of which obsessions, attractions, and impulses are essentially his, and which are the result of Christian conversion, hetero-patriarchal/colonialist white supremacy, homophobia, Bacardi, gummy candy, and not getting laid.
IRL asks, what happens to a modern, queer indigenous person a few generations after his ancestors were alienated from their language, their religion, and their history? Teebs feels compelled towards “boys, burgers,booze,” though he begins to suspect there is perhaps a more ancient goddess calling to him behind art, behind music, behind poetry.
WHITE MAGIC BY ELISSA WASHUTA
Throughout her life, Elissa Washuta has been surrounded by cheap facsimiles of Native spiritual tools and occult trends, “starter witch kits” of sage, rose quartz, and tarot cards packaged together in paper and plastic. Following a decade of abuse, addiction, PTSD, and heavy-duty drug treatment for a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder, she felt drawn to the real spirits and powers her dispossessed and discarded ancestors knew, while she undertook necessary work to find love and meaning.
In this collection of intertwined essays, she writes about land, heartbreak, and colonization, about life without the escape hatch of intoxication, and about how she became a powerful witch. She interlaces stories from her forebears with cultural artifacts from her own life—Twin Peaks, the Oregon Trail II video game, a Claymation Satan, a YouTube video of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham—to explore questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.
COVERED WITH NIGHT: A STORY OF MURDER AND INDIGENOUS JUSTICE IN EARLY AMERICA BY NICOLE EUSTACE
On the eve of a major treaty conference between Iroquois leaders and European colonists in the distant summer of 1722, two white fur traders attacked an Indigenous hunter and left him for dead near Conestoga, Pennsylvania. Though virtually forgotten today, this act of brutality set into motion a remarkable series of criminal investigations and cross-cultural negotiations that challenged the definition of justice in early America.
In Covered with Night, leading historian Nicole Eustace reconstructs the crime and its aftermath, bringing us into the overlapping worlds of white colonists and Indigenous peoples in this formative period. As she shows, the murder of the Indigenous man set the entire mid-Atlantic on edge, with many believing war was imminent. Isolated killings often flared into colonial wars in North America, and colonists now anticipated a vengeful Indigenous uprising. Frantic efforts to resolve the case ignited a dramatic, far-reaching debate between Native American forms of justice—centered on community, forgiveness, and reparations—and an ideology of harsh reprisal, unique to the colonies and based on British law, which called for the killers’ swift execution.
In charting the far-reaching ramifications of the murder, Covered with Night—a phrase from Iroquois mourning practices—overturns persistent assumptions about “civilized” Europeans and “savage” Native Americans. As Eustace powerfully contends, the colonial obsession with “civility” belied the reality that the Iroquois, far from being the barbarians of the white imagination, acted under a mantle of sophistication and humanity as they tried to make the land- and power-hungry colonials understand their ways. In truth, Eustace reveals, the Iroquois—the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, as they are known today—saw the killing as an opportunity to forge stronger bonds with the colonists. They argued for restorative justice and for reconciliation between the two sides, even as they mourned the deceased.
A HISTORY OF MY BRIEF BODY BY BILLY-RAY BELCOURT
The youngest-ever winner of the Griffin Prize mines his personal history in a brilliant new essay collection seeking to reconcile the world he was born into with the world that could be. Drawing on intimate personal experience, A History of My Brief Body is a meditation on grief, joy, love, and sex at the intersection of indigeneity and queerness.
Billy-Ray Belcourt’s debut memoir opens with a tender letter to his kokum and memories of his early life in the hamlet of Joussard, Alberta, and on the Driftpile First Nation. Piece by piece, Billy-Ray’s writings invite us to unpack and explore the big and broken world he inhabits every day, in all its complexity and contradiction: a legacy of colonial violence and the joy that flourishes in spite of it; first loves and first loves lost; sexual exploration and intimacy; the act of writing as a survival instinct and a way to grieve.
What emerges is not only a profound meditation on memory, gender, anger, shame, and ecstasy, but also the outline of a way forward. With startling honesty, and in a voice distinctly and assuredly his own, Belcourt situates his life experiences within a constellation of seminal queer texts, among which this book is sure to earn its place.
Eye-opening, intensely emotional, and excessively quotable, A History of My Brief Body demonstrates over and over again the power of words to both devastate and console us.