6 Of The Best Novels By And About Native Americans

Since today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I’d like to guide you toward some stunning novels written by Native Americans that chronicle the lives of their people.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

While this is technically a young adult book, it is relevant for readers of all ages. It’s based on the author’s life, particularly his adolescence, when he chose to leave his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all white school. Our protagonist, Junior, is an aspiring cartoonist and his writing is accompanied by drawings (by Ellen Forney) that represent his art. The story is funny at times while touching on heavy subjects of racism and trauma through the eyes of an intelligent young man.

La Rose by Louise Erdrich

A powerful family drama with a young boy at the center, torn between two families. While out hunting, Landeaux Iron shoots what he believes is a deer on the edge of his property. Only after he’s squeezed the trigger killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty. Tortured by what he’s done,  Landeaux engages in an Ojibwe tribe tradition, entering the sweat lodge for spiritual guidance. Then following an ancient means of retribution, he and his wife give their own son to Dusty’s grieving parents.

There There by Tommy Orange

From Goodreads: Tommy Orange’s wondrous and shattering novel follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize. Among them is Jacquie Red Feather, newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind. Dene Oxendene, pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and working at the powwow to honor his memory. Fourteen-year-old Orvil, coming to perform traditional dance for the very first time. Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American–grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism. Hailed as an instant classic, There There is at once poignant and unflinching, utterly contemporary and truly unforgettable. 

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

From Goodreads: Tayo, a young Native American, has been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, and the horrors of captivity have almost eroded his will to survive. His return to the Laguna Pueblo reservation only increases his feeling of estrangement and alienation. While other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo searches for another kind of comfort and resolution. Tayo’s quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people. The search itself becomes a ritual, a curative ceremony that defeats the most virulent of afflictions—despair.

Fools Crow by James Welch

From Goodreads: Set in Montana shortly after the Civil War, this novel tells of White Man’s Dog (later known as Fools Crow so called after he killed the chief of the Crows during a raid), a young Blackfeet Indian on the verge of manhood, and his band, known as the Lone Eaters. The invasion of white society threatens to change their traditional way of life, and they must choose to fight or assimilate. The story is a powerful portrait of a fading way of life. The story culminates with the historic Marias Massacre of 1870, in which the U.S. Cavalry mistakenly killed a friendly band of Blackfeet, consisting mostly of non-combatants.

Pushing The Bear by Diane Glancy

From Wikipedia: Pushing the Bear tells the story of Cherokee removal in the Trail of Tears. Diane Glancy weaves the story together through the voices of a variety of characters, the majority of whom are Cherokee Indians, but also through historical documents, missionaries and the soldiers who were responsible for guiding the Cherokee along the trail. The novel travels chronologically through each month and location along the Trail of Tears. Glancy taps into an emotional and horrific, but historically accurate account of what many now refer to as Indian genocide.

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