Native Village
Youth and Education news

Volume 2  February 2012 

The 20 Essential American Indian Novels
Condensed by Native Village

The Americas' native peoples are watching many ancient traditions die out due to invading cultures.  One way to educate the world on the horrors of colonialism is through literature.

Native American cultures vary widely from tribe to tribe and region to region. The following books include a diversity of perspectives, traditions and histories. Use these as a beginner's guide to some of the best examples of the many amazing works out there.

by Leslie Marmon Silko

 After World War II, Tayo grapples with both post-traumatic stress disorder and his bi-racial heritage. The veteran is also rejected by the Pueblo and white communities  during this time of great distress. Tayo's only peace wavers between spirituality and substance abuse before he comes to terms with his rough life.

Reservation Blues
by Sherman Alexie

Alexie's story is about the ascent and collapse of a blues band, Coyote Springs. The band members are from the Spokane Reservation, and each channels his/her frustrations and struggles into the music.  But infighting and addiction leads to the bands unraveling.

House Made of Dawn
by M. Scott Momaday

This Pulitzer Prize winner is consider among the greatest works of Native American literature. Overlooked corners of reservation life are detailed, and historians praise DAWN's detailed, accurate depiction of peyote. Some events were inspired by an actual incident of a Native American murdering a New Mexico state trooper that sent shocks throughout the reservation and state.

The Plague of Doves
by Louise Erdrich

 Plague of Doves earned Louise Erdrich a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 2009.   Set in North Dakota, DOVES spans multiple generations of the same family. Murder and false accusations leads to retaliation, and three innocent Native Americans are lynched. The innocent men's family member weave in and out of the lives those responsible for the heinous murders and lies.

Fools Crow
 by James Welch

 This widely-honored novel chronicles how American settlers destroyed indigenous ways of life. Young Blackfoot man Fools Crow comes of age at one of the most turbulent eras in his tribe's history. During the very real Marias Massacre, as the bodies hit the floor, Fools Crow must find unknown parts of  himself and display leadership skills he never thought possible — all in the interest of survival.

La Maravilla
 by Alfredo Vea, Jr

 Beto, a Chicano, lives in two worlds -- one of Native American spirituality, the other in Spanish Catholic mysticism. On Buckeye Road, members of marginalized religious, ethnic, and other demographics find solace and help. Their differing philosophies on faith add texture to lives forced outside the mainstream.

The Heirs of Columbus
by Gerald Vizeno

Gerald Vizenor re-imagines Christopher Columbus as a half-Mayan, half-Sephardic Jew hoping to return to his American homeland. In the future, his descendants hope to do the same with what remains of the mostly-decayed body.

by Mitch Cullin

 Narrator Jeliza-Rose spends her summer with Barbie doll heads inside an abandoned Texas farmhouse. Over time, she wanders into the grounds' huge grass fields and loses herself to dreamlike adventures. (TIDELAND is the third of Cullin's Texas Trilogy, preceded by Wompyjawed and Branches.)

Green Grass, Running Water
by Thomas King

Thomas King is known for his
humor and satire. GRASS/WATER combines traditional Blackfoot spirituality with the story of four tribal elders in a mental institution whose lives intersect with women from their religious tradition. The elders' stories culminate in a climactic Blackfoot Sun Dance.

Ravensong: A Novel
by Lee Maracle

 RAVENSONG is the reality of a Pacific Northwest tribe after World War II. A flu epidemic and a rush of white settlers threatens the tribe's already tenuous cohesion. 17-year-old Stacey finds herself stuck right in the middle.

From the River's Edge
by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn

 EDGE is about tensions between Native Americans and European settlers. When Sioux tribal members win a trial about cattle rustling and stealing, they are forced to return to court. Sioux families begin testifying against each other, and main character John Tatekeya sadly notes how far his tribe has fallen thanks to colonialism.

by Helen Hunt Jackson

RAMONA is a tragic romance built around the true story of the Ponca tribe fighting for its Nebraska homelands,  The heroine is a half-Native American and half-Scot. She  renounces her Scottish heritage for the man she loves. Both are chastised by the government and their peers and must  steal away to find a comfortable personal peace.

Cover of: Remnants of the first earth by Ray A. Young BearRemnants of the First Earth
by Ray Young Bear

 Edgar Bearchild navigates the perilous balance of ancient tradition with modern stresses. In the 1950s, Bearchild must overcome challenges on the Black Eagle Child Settlement, including poverty and racism. As he grows older, he becomes aware of the truths within his marginalized community. 
Last Standing Woman
by Winona LaDuke

 Native American politician, activist and writer Winona LaDuke delivers a profound, detailed look at her Anishinaabe tribes history.  Standing Woman covers 7 generations, beginning in the 1860s with the first  European contact. LaDuke's story offers solace and solidarity to others facing isolation and the loss of traditional ways of life due to European invasion.

Cover of: Mean Spirit by Linda HoganMean Spirit
by Linda Hogan

Two Osage families in Oklahoma ignite in a violent uproar over the discovery of oil.  One Osage landowners is found murdered. 
Politics and conspiracies abound, and justice is finally served during a time when many youth are leaving the tribe for a more "Western" lifestyle.
The Story Catcher
by Mari Sandoz

 A young Sioux boy lives beneath a banner of war, hunting, medicine and more. He earns the name Story Catcher for his passion to chronicle as much of his tribe's history as he can. Story Catcher's emotions are challenged as he learns about great tragedy and heartfelt triumph.

The Grass Dancer by Susan PowerThe Grass Dancer
by Susan Power

 Power brings more than 100 years of Dakota Sioux history vivid life through examples of magic realism done right. 17-year-old Harley Wind Soldier's life changes when his family's real history becomes the forefront of his life. Other actual events and Native American spiritual traditions weave in and out of the story.

The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta
by John Rollin Ridge

 This early example of Native American literature focuses on
Joaquin Murieta, a Mexican and [many believe]Cherokee. Murieta rebelled against a society that was closed to the nonwhites. During the California Gold Rush, he was considered a hero and Robin Hood figure by many.  Others considered him a criminal. 


by John Joseph Mathews

 This semi-autobiographical novel involves
Challenge Windzer, a young Osage man returning home from  university and military service. These experiences bring on a newfound isolation from his family and friends. And when the Oklahoma oil boom hits tribal lands, everything begins slipping from his weakening grip.
The Fast Red Road: A Plainsong by Stephen Graham Jones

 Jones proudly picks up his pen and shoots down the myths and misconceptions about Native American tribes that swirl across pop culture. PLAINSONG addresses the western genre and the real truths of forced living outside the mainstream.

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