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The Dartmouth
May 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Book Recommendations for Native American Heritage Month

One writer recommends six books to read during Native American Heritage Month.


November is Native American Heritage Month, a time dedicated to recognizing the profound cultural contributions, legacies and traditions of Indigenous peoples to our society. This month provides an excellent opportunity to delve into the captivating world of Native American literature and to warm your winter days with enriching reads you won’t want to miss. From fiction to nonfiction to poetry, each of these books offers a unique insight into Native American cultures and experiences.

“The Night Watchman” by Louise Erdrich ’76

This thought-provoking novel delves into the lives of a vibrant and resilient community of Native Americans in the 1950s. Based on the author’s own family history, the story follows Thomas Wazhashk, a night watchman and Chippewa council member, as he fights against the impending termination policy by the U.S. government that threatens to dispossess his tribe of their land and identity.

As Thomas navigates this turbulent period, the novel weaves together the lives and voices of multiple characters, highlighting their struggles, dreams and determination to protect their heritage. With profound character development and rich prose, Erdrich’s narrative explores the strength of community and the fight for justice in the face of adversity. “The Night Watchman” is a moving and beautifully written tale that sheds light on an important chapter of American history and the enduring spirit of Indigenous people. Celebrated for her literary prowess, Erdrich stands as one of the most prominent voices in the second wave of the Native American Renaissance. However, her journey doesn’t stop at her literary achievements. She also holds the distinction of being a member of the pioneering first four-year coeducational class at Dartmouth College.

“An American Sunrise: Poems” by Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo takes readers on a powerful literary journey through the heart of America. In this stunning poetry collection, Harjo, the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, weaves together evocative verses that explore the complex tapestry of American history, identity and heritage. With a blend of raw emotion and lyrical beauty, these poems uncover the untold stories of Indigenous peoples, their resilience and the enduring spirit that still thrives today. “An American Sunrise” is a poetic celebration of Indigeneity, a call for justice and a poignant reflection on the land, the people and the enduring hope that illuminates the American dawn.

“The Tao of Raven: An Alaska Native Memoir” by Ernestine Hayes

This narrative about Native Alaskan culture revolves around the symbolism and significance of the raven, a creature of immense importance in Indigenous Alaskan mythology. Hayes, a talented storyteller, combines personal experiences and traditional tales to create a tapestry of wisdom passed down through generations.

As you delve into this narrative, you’ll discover a world where the modern and the ancient coexist in a delicate balance. Hayes skillfully explores the complexities of living in a rapidly changing world while honoring the deep-rooted traditions of her people. Her writing takes readers on a mesmerizing voyage, where the raven serves as a powerful metaphor, teaching us about resilience, connection and the profound essence of existence.

“Elatsoe” by Darcie Little Badger

This novel introduces us to Elatsoe, a gifted Lipan Apache teenager with the ability to raise the spirits of the dead. Set in a world where magic is real but not without consequences, Elatsoe embarks on a quest to uncover the truth behind a mysterious murder.

Elatsoe’s character is compelling and strong-willed, and she represents the resilience and resourcefulness of her people. Badger’s book not only invites readers to a world of magic and mystery, but also serves as a celebration of Indigenous culture. With elements of mystery and fantasy, “Elatsoe” is a captivating and culturally significant coming-of-age story that promises to leave readers spellbound and eager to explore the hidden depths of its pages.

“The Only Good Indians” by Stephen Graham Jones

Jones invites you to a chilling and thought-provoking exploration of guilt, redemption and the supernatural set against the backdrop of contemporary Native American life. This gripping novel introduces us to four friends from the Blackfeet Nation who find themselves haunted by a dark incident from their past. As they grapple with the consequences of their actions, a vengeful and otherworldly force begins to stalk them.

Jones crafts a mesmerizing narrative that delves deep into the complexities of identity, cultural heritage and the enduring trauma faced by Indigenous communities. The story artfully blends elements of horror, folklore and psychological suspense, keeping readers on the edge of their seats. Through vivid character development and masterful storytelling, “The Only Good Indians” takes readers on a haunting journey, offering a unique perspective on the Native American experience and the interplay between tradition and contemporary life. This is not merely a horror novel; it’s a powerful and unsettling exploration of the consequences of one’s actions and the inescapable ties that bind us to our past, all while navigating a world where the supernatural is very real.

“Five Little Indians” by Michelle Good

This story follows the lives of five Indigenous children who survived the traumatic and devastating effects of Canada’s residential school system. Set against the backdrop of post-World War II Canada, the story delves deep into the struggles and resilience of these survivors as they navigate the complex challenges of reintegration into society. Each character’s journey is a heartbreaking yet ultimately hopeful exploration of healing and the enduring strength of the human spirit. Michelle Good’s evocative storytelling sheds light on a dark chapter in Canadian history, making “Five Little Indians” a compelling and thought-provoking read that offers insights into the lasting impact of colonialism on Indigenous communities.

The books will immerse you in the richness of Native American culture and teach you important lessons, both about Indigeneity and humanity as a whole.