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Making Ways Out of No Way: A Native American Heritage Month Reading List

Indigenous marchers at the Inauguration protests of 2017, Washington, DC.
Indigenous marchers at the Inauguration protests of 2017, Washington, DC. Photo credit: Mobilus In Mobili

President Biden sure is making up for lost time. At this year’s tribal nations summit, skipped over the previous four years by you know who, he signed an executive order for the US to take steps to protect tribal lands and address the epidemic of missing and murdered Native Americans. He proposed a ban on federal oil and gas leases on the sacred tribal site of Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico. And in his official White House proclamation for Native American Heritage Month, he listed more commitments the country will make to Indian Country.

On paper, this looks good. Let’s hope the administration delivers, and let’s hold them to it. Because too often, the US has shafted the country’s Indigenous communities. Too often meaning from the get-go. The history of it is in these books we’re recommending for Native American Heritage Month. But there’s also more to it than that. These books have stories of intersectional alliances, stories of Native Americans in all their diversity, making a way out of no way when all the cards of settler colonialism, dispossession, and white supremacy are stacked against them. Check it out!


An Afro-Indigenous History of the US

An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States

Black and Indigenous peoples, in spite of presumed differences—that is, the different ways they were treated by the settler state—have sought solidarity with each other. They have always sought to disrupt, dismantle, and reimagine US democracy; they have even sought to radically transform how this society operates. . . . Without understanding both [Native dispossession and slavery] as white supremacist and settler-colonial projects, we will continue to have a distorted understanding of US history, and also have a severe lack in understanding our present circumstances, and how we gon’ get free going forward.
—Kyle T. Mays


All the Real Indians Died Off

“All The Real Indians Died Off”: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans

The myths about Indigenous peoples that this book identifies can be traced to narratives of erasure. They have had—and continue to have—a profoundly negative impact on the lives of the millions of Native people who still live on the continent of their ancient ancestors. They work further to keep non-Natives in a state of ignorance, forever misinformed and condemned to repeat the mistakes of history, silently eroding their own humanity when they fail to recognize their roles in—or, more specifically, the ways they benefit from—the ongoing injustice of a colonial system.
—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker


As Long As Grass Grows

As Long As Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock

As the #NoDAPL movement made clear through the slogan “Water is life,” Native resistance is inextricably bound to worldviews that center not only the obvious life-sustaining forces of the natural world but also the respect accorded the natural world in relationships of reciprocity based on responsibility toward those life forms. What does environmental justice look like when Indigenous peoples are at the center?
—Dina Gilio-Whitaker


How Does It Feel to Be Unwanted

How Does It Feel to Be Unwanted?: Stories of Resistance and Resilience from Mexicans Living in the United States

Mexico is a multicultural, multilingual country where seven million people speak indigenous languages. Of those, more than a million speak only one of seventy-two indigenous languages, and no Spanish. This population is concentrated in a few of Mexico’s thirty-one states. Oaxaca, which, along with neighboring states Guerrero and Chiapas, is one of the three poorest states in the country, is also the state with the largest indigenous population, at over 1.5 million. With over sixteen ethnolinguistic groups, four out of every ten inhabitants of the state speak an indigenous language, and 14 percent of the population do not speak Spanish . . . . Aside from a lack of documents, for migrants who do not speak Spanish or English, it’s a challenge just to find interpreters to help with carrying out official business—with the government, signing contracts, or when seeking medical attention or legal help, sometimes in what could be matters of life or death.
—Eileen Truax


An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

The history of the United States is a history of settler colonialism—the founding of a state based on the ideology of white supremacy, the widespread practice of African slavery, and a policy of genocide and land theft. Those who seek history with an upbeat ending, a history of redemption and reconciliation, may look around and observe that such a conclusion is not visible, not even in utopian dreams of a better society. Writing US history form an Indigenous peoples’ perspective requires rethinking the consensual national narrative. That narrative is wrong or deficient, not in its facts, dates, or details but rather in its essence.
—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz


An Indigenous Peoples History of the US for Young People

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People

Like most people, Americans want to think well of themselves, their ancestors, their history, and what they and their leaders do. As advanced technology makes the experiences of Indigenous peoples around the world more readily available, it is necessary that Americans learn to think more completely and more critically about their own history, because it can help them be better citizens of the world. Part of that critical thinking involves recognition that “America” is a name given to two land masses by European colonizers. Indigenous peoples had, and have, words for the land in their own languages.
—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, adapted by Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza


Not a Nation of Immigrants

Not “A Nation of Immigrants”: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion

Although immigrant bashing is not new, and has long targeted Asian and Mexican workers, it has become a more fraught issue as it crystalized in the late twentieth century and accelerated in the early twenty-first century, targeting Mexicans, Asians, and Arab Muslims. Yet, those who defend immigrants and immigration, mostly metropolitan liberals, often immigrants or children of immigrants themselves, employ the idea of a nation of immigrants naively without acknowledging the settler-colonial history of the United States and the white nationalist ideology it reproduces.
—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz


The Radiant Lives of Animals

The Radiant Lives of Animals

When I think of change, I consider the re-minding of ourselves and I mean that it is time to consider other kinds of intelligence and ways of being, to stretch our synapses to take in new ways of thought. As an Indigenous woman, I look toward our Native knowledge systems, the times when our relationship with the earth wasn’t the disjointed connection most of us have learned from our Euro-American education systems. I am one human animal who wants to take back original meanings and understandings in ways that are possible and are necessary.
—Linda Hogan


Reclaiming Two-Spirits

Reclaiming Two-Spirits: Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal & Sovereignty in Native America (forthcoming in April 2022!)
Gregory D. Smithers

“Compels readers to rethink gender and sexuality from the nonbinary point of view of Indigenous cultures, which uses gender-neutral and polyvalent words to express an array of identities. Smithers recovers the Two-Spirits who lie hidden beneath the homophobic language of archival records, obliging not only historians but everyone who cares about Indigenous peoples to be more aware of gender biases and how language is a tool of colonization.”
—David Martínez (Akimel O’odham/Hia Ced O’odham/Mexican), author of Life of the Indigenous Mind

Inauguration protest 2017