Indigenous People's Literature

Every November, we honor the talent, wisdom, and histories of the Indigenous peoples of the United States. Featuring poetry, memoirs, fiction, and more, the selections in this Collection highlight the range of voices, experiences, and literary contributions of Indigenous writers.

Publication year 2017Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Society: Economics, Natural World: Environment, Identity: Femininity, Identity: Race, Society: Class, Society: Colonialism, Society: Globalization, Society: Nation, Society: Politics & Government, Values/Ideas: Power & GreedTags Business / Economics, History: World, Politics / Government, Social Justice

A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet (2017) is a nonfiction book written by Raj Patel, a political economist and professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Jason W. Moore, an environmental historian and associate professor at Binghamton University. The authors’ expertise in political economy and environmental history provides a unique perspective on the interconnected nature of capitalism and ecological... Read A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things Summary

Publication year 1921Genre Short Story Collection, FictionThemes Identity: Race, Values/Ideas: Equality, Identity: GenderTags Historical Fiction, Auto/Biographical Fiction, Allegory / Fable / Parable, Race / Racism, Gender / Feminism

Zitkála-Šá’s 1921 book American Indian Stories gathers autobiographical chapters, fictional stories, and essays focused on the experiences of the Dakota Sioux and interactions between American Indians and White citizens of the United States. Zitkála-Šá’s works convey a strong sense of independence, pride in Sioux culture, and indignation at injustices committed against American Indians. This study guide references the 2019 Modern Library (Penguin Random House) edition of American Indian Stories.SummaryThe collection begins with an autobiographical piece... Read American Indian Stories Summary

Publication year 2019Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Identity: Gender, Society: ColonialismTags Race / Racism, Social Justice, Mental Illness, Colonialism / Postcolonialism

Publication year 2017Genre Poem, FictionThemes Identity: Race, Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride, Identity: Mental Health, Society: Politics & GovernmentTags Lyric Poem, History: U.S., American Literature, Food

Joy Harjo is a seminal voice in the US poetry canon, and she has long been an advocate for Native American women in the literary world. Her work has merited tremendous acclaim, such as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the American... Read An American Sunrise Summary

Publication year 1998Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Identity: Indigenous, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Identity: Femininity, Identity: Gender, Identity: Mental Health, Identity: Race, Life/Time: The Past, Society: Colonialism, Society: Politics & Government, Values/Ideas: Beauty, Values/Ideas: EqualityTags Fantasy, Magical Realism, Historical Fiction

Antelope Woman is a novel by Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) author Louise Erdrich. First published in 1998 as The Antelope Wife, Erdrich revised and updated the text in 2012 and re-issued it, adding new content, storylines, and chapters. Like much of Erdrich’s other work, the novel is a multi-generational story of both Indigenous and white families set in and around traditional Ojibwe lands in North Dakota and Minnesota. Erdrich is known for her use of magical realism... Read Antelope Woman Summary

Publication year 2020Genre Memoir in Verse, NonfictionThemes Relationships: Family, Life/Time: Coming of Age, Society: Colonialism, Society: Community, Identity: IndigenousTags Race / Racism, Social Justice, LGBTQ

Publication year 2021Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Natural World: Climate, Identity: Language, Identity: IndigenousTags Fantasy

Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Love, Relationships: Mothers, Values/Ideas: FateTags Fantasy, Romance, Mythology

Publication year 2020Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Coming of Age, Values/Ideas: Fame, Values/Ideas: Good & EvilTags Fantasy, Romance, Mythology, New Adult

Publication year 2012Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Relationships: Family, Identity: Indigenous, Society: Colonialism, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Emotions/Behavior: courage, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Self Discovery, Society: Nation, Society: CommunityTags History: U.S., Trauma / Abuse / Violence, Addiction / Substance Abuse, Depression / Suicide, Education, History: The Americas, Race / Racism, Social Justice, Women's Studies (Nonfiction)

Publication year 1972Genre Poem, FictionThemes Society: War, Society: ColonialismTags Heinemann African Writers, African Literature

Publication year 1982Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Natural World: Environment, Natural World: Place, Life/Time: The Past, Values/Ideas: Fate, Emotions/Behavior: NostalgiaTags Travel Literature, Action / Adventure, History: U.S., Race / Racism

Blue Highways: A Journey into America (1982) is an autobiographical travelogue by American historian William Least Heat-Moon. The trip in question—a 13,000-mile circuit around the States—began in 1978, the book’s title deriving from out-of-the-way routes drawn in blue on an old road atlas. The author-narrator researches local history of the areas visited and interviews the many people he meets. Heat-Moon spent the subsequent years composing and revising the manuscript, and after a few rejections, it... Read Blue Highways: A Journey into America Summary

Publication year 2009Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Identity: Race, Values/Ideas: Win & LoseTags Sports, Health / Medicine, Science / Nature, Action / Adventure, Travel Literature, Anthropology, Finance / Money / Wealth

Publication year 2022Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Natural World: Flora/plants, Natural World: Environment, Identity: Indigenous, Society: Colonialism, Society: CommunityTags Science / Nature, Philosophy

Publication year 2013Genre Book, NonfictionTags Science / Nature

Written in 2013, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants is a nonfiction book by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. The work examines modern botany and environmentalism through the lens of the traditions and cultures of the Indigenous peoples of North America. Through a series of personal reflections, the author explores the connection between living things and human efforts to cultivate a more sustainable... Read Braiding Sweetgrass Summary

Publication year 2022Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: FamilyTags Race / Racism, Coming of Age / Bildungsroman

Publication year 1977Genre Novel, FictionThemes Identity: Indigenous, Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Society: WarTags Western, American Literature, Historical Fiction

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko is a 1977 historical novel that won the American Book Award in 1980; it was Silko’s first novel. Ceremony follows Tayo, a young Laguna Pueblo veteran who is now struggling to cope with Alienation and Isolation in Post-WWII America. Traditional Laguna Pueblo legends parallel Tayo’s journey and explore themes of The Power of Stories and Adapting Tradition to the Present. Ceremony is often cited as a major work in the... Read Ceremony Summary

Publication year 2005Genre Novel, FictionTags Historical Fiction

Originally published in 2005, Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two, is a middle-grade work of historical fiction by Joseph Bruchac. The story is based on historical events and narrated by Ned Begay, a Navajo man who refers to readers of the book as “My Grandchildren.” Looking back on his youth, Ned reveals how native Navajo speakers were recruited by the US military to use their unique language skills in... Read Code Talker Summary

Publication year 2012Genre Autobiography / Memoir, Nonfiction

Crazy Brave: A Memoir is an autobiographical work by poet, writer, artist, and musician Joy Harjo that was published by W. W. Norton and Company in 2012. The memoir follows the life of Joy Harjo from birth to adulthood and her struggles with spirituality and creativity while living with various alcoholic and abusive men. Over the course of her life, she discovers that poetry, art, storytelling, and music can liberate her from her oppressive domestic... Read Crazy Brave Summary

Publication year 1969Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Identity: Indigenous, Society: Colonialism, Society: Nation, Society: Politics & GovernmentTags History: U.S., Politics / Government, Race / Racism, Social Justice

Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto was written in 1969 by Vine Deloria Jr., a historian, theologian, activist, and member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The work explores the oppression and exploitation of Native people in the United States, outlines the history of Indian resistance, and recommends a course of action for modern Indigenous people. Extremely influential in the 1960s and 1970s Native American Movement, Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto remains... Read Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto Summary

Publication year 2020Genre Novel, FictionThemes Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Emotions/Behavior: Revenge, Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Identity: Indigenous, Relationships: FamilyTags Fantasy, Mystery / Crime Fiction, LGBTQ, Magical Realism, Action / Adventure, Grief / Death, Race / Racism

Publication year 1979Genre Poem, FictionThemes Society: Immigration, Identity: RaceTags Immigration / Refugee, Colonialism / Postcolonialism

Publication year 2019Genre Novel, FictionThemes Identity: Indigenous, Society: Community, Values/Ideas: Power & Greed, Relationships: Marriage, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / PerseveranceTags Fantasy, Horror / Thriller / Suspense Fiction, Magical Realism

Publication year 2010Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Society: Education, Emotions/Behavior: Shame & PrideTags Education, Children's Literature

Fatty Legs: A True Story is the 2010 autobiographical account of author Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton’s childhood experience in one of Canada’s residential schools for Indigenous children in the 19th and 20th centuries. This study guide is based on the 10th anniversary edition, in which several supplemental chapters written by Pokiak-Fenton’s daughter-in-law explain the larger context of colonialism that created the residential school system. These residential schools represented an attempt to strip Indigenous students of their cultural... Read Fatty Legs Summary

Publication year 2021Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Natural World: Appearance & Reality, Society: CommunityTags Mystery / Crime Fiction, Psychological Fiction, Trauma / Abuse / Violence, Addiction / Substance Abuse, Grief / Death, Race / Racism, American Literature

Publication year 2020Genre Novel, FictionThemes Identity: RaceTags Historical Fiction

Publication year 1986Genre Short Story, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Revenge, Identity: Gender, Identity: RaceTags Magical Realism, Trauma / Abuse / Violence, Gender / Feminism, American Literature

“Fleur” is a magical realist short story by Chippewa American author Louise Erdrich. It was first published in Esquire in 1986 and won an O. Henry Award, a prize for excellence in short story writing. Erdrich expanded on the story and characters in her novel Tracks, published in 1988. This guide, which discusses sexual abuse, uses the version of “Fleur” published in the 2009 collection The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories 1978-2008. The narrator... Read Fleur Summary

Publication year 2007Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Revenge, Relationships: FamilyTags Fantasy

Pubished in 2007, Flight: A Novel is Sherman Alexie's—one of the best-known and most lauded Native American writers—work of historical fiction and fantasy. Alexie—a Washington State native, like his protagonist—is a noteable poet, novelist, and screenwriter. He both wrote and produced the 1998 film, Smoke Signals, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won both the Audience Award and the Filmmaker’s Trophy.Plot Summary15-year old Zits wakes up in yet another foster home. As usual... Read Flight Summary

Publication year 1986Genre Novel, FictionTags Western

James Welch’s Fools Crow (1987) is an historical novel that retells the Anglo conquering of the American West and, specifically, the events leading up to the Marias Massacre in Montana, in 1870, from the perspective of the Blackfeet (Pikuni) people. The novel chronicles the experiences of the Pikuni as they struggle to maintain their traditions in the face of smallpox, violent persecution, and shrinking numbers of buffalo as more white Americans–the Napikwans–move onto their lands... Read Fools Crow Summary

Publication year 2015Genre Poem, FictionThemes Values/Ideas: Religion & Spirituality, Natural World: EnvironmentTags Lyric Poem, Inspirational, Religion / Spirituality

Publication year 2019Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionThemes Identity: Mental Health, Identity: Indigenous, Values/Ideas: Safety & Danger, Society: Community, Relationships: FamilyTags Inspirational, Trauma / Abuse / Violence, Race / Racism, Addiction / Substance Abuse

Publication year 2017Genre Poem, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Fear, Identity: Sexuality, Identity: Indigenous, Natural World: Flora/plants, Relationships: FriendshipTags Free verse, American Literature, Love / Sexuality, Science / Nature, LGBTQ

Publication year 2017Genre Novel, FictionThemes Identity: Race, Relationships: Mothers, Life/Time: The FutureTags Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction, Gender / Feminism, Religion / Spirituality, Science / Nature, Race / Racism

Future Home of the Living God is a 2017 speculative fiction novel by American author Louise Erdrich. Told by Cedar Hawk Songmaker, a pregnant Native American woman in her mid-twenties living in Minneapolis, the story consists of her reflections as she waits to give birth. In the novel’s pre-apocalyptic America, human evolution has reversed, meaning that the species has begun to biologically regress into an infertile state. Meanwhile, the United States government has undermined citizens’... Read Future Home of the Living God Summary

Publication year 2021Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: courage, Identity: Indigenous, Values/Ideas: Trust & Doubt, Relationships: Grandparents, Natural World: EnvironmentTags Fantasy, Magical Realism, Action / Adventure

Publication year 1968Genre Novel, FictionThemes Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Emotions/Behavior: Apathy, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Emotions/Behavior: Loneliness, Emotions/Behavior: Love, Natural World: Place, Natural World: Animals, Values/Ideas: Religion & Spirituality, Values/Ideas: Equality, Values/Ideas: Fate, Values/Ideas: Good & Evil, Values/Ideas: Order & Chaos, Society: Colonialism, Society: Community, Society: Nation, Society: Politics & Government, Society: War, Emotions/Behavior: MemoryTags Historical Fiction, Classic Fiction, American Literature, Addiction / Substance Abuse, Social Justice

The novel House Made of Dawn, by N. Scott Momaday, was first published in 1968. Heralded as a major landmark in the emergence of Indigenous American literature, the novel won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. House Made of Dawn blends fictional and nonfictional elements to depict life on an Indigenous American reservation like the one where Momaday grew up.This guide uses an eBook version of the 2018 First Harper Perennial Modern Classics (50th Anniversary)... Read House Made of Dawn Summary

Publication year 2017Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionTags Trauma / Abuse / Violence

How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child is a 2017 memoir by Sandra Uwiringiyimana. It recounts Sandra’s life in the volatile Democratic Republic of the Congo, her immigration to America, and her dedication to activism. This nonfiction autobiography is the winner of multiple awards, including the New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens; Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Books for Teens: Nonfiction; and Bank Street’s 2018 Best Books of... Read How Dare the Sun Rise Summary

Publication year 2013Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Society: Colonialism, Society: CommunityTags Historical Fiction, History: U.S., Trauma / Abuse / Violence

Published in 2013 by Tim Tingle, How I Became a Ghost is a work of middle grade fiction that follows a young boy in the Choctaw nation and his death on the Trail of Tears. The Choctaw Trail of Tears refers to The Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the forced relocation of Choctaws from their homes in the deep south to areas further west. How I Became a Ghost has received an American Indian... Read How I Became a Ghost Summary

Publication year 2021Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Identity: Indigenous, Identity: Language, Natural World: Climate, Relationships: Family, Society: Colonialism, Values/Ideas: Justice & InjusticeTags Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction, Fantasy, Survival Fiction, LGBTQ

Publication year 2019Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Identity: Indigenous, Values/Ideas: Truth & Lies, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Life/Time: Coming of AgeTags Realistic Fiction, Parenting

Publication year 2007Genre Poem, FictionThemes Identity: Race, Identity: Indigenous, Emotions/Behavior: Forgiveness, Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Identity: Language, Life/Time: Childhood & Youth, Society: Colonialism, Values/Ideas: Win & Lose, Values/Ideas: LiteratureTags Lyric Poem, Education, Arts / Culture, Diversity, History: The Americas, Race / Racism, Trauma / Abuse / Violence, Colonialism / Postcolonialism

Publication year 1977Genre Poem, FictionThemes Society: Politics & Government, Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / PerseveranceTags Narrative / Epic Poem, Immigration / Refugee, Social Justice, American Literature

Publication year 2012Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride

Indian Horse (2012) is a novel written by Canadian author Richard Wagamese. The story follows Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway boy from northern Ontario who escapes his demons and rough childhood through hockey, only to succumb to alcohol after losing his joy for the game.Content Warning: The source material and this guide include instances and discussions of rape, assault, racism, and substance use disorder.Plot SummaryAs a young boy, Saul lives in the bush and has... Read Indian Horse Summary

Publication year 1996Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Fathers, Emotions/Behavior: Hate & AngerTags Mystery / Crime Fiction

Sherman Alexie’s 1996 novel Indian Killer is part crime thriller and part darkly humorous study of interracial violence. This guide uses the 1996 edition published by The Atlantic Monthly Press, New York. Telling the story of a serial killer known as the Indian Killer, the novel progresses through many short chapters that shift between the viewpoints of multiple characters. Although the characters are not actually narrators, the narrative voice closely follows their experiences and perspectives... Read Indian Killer Summary

Publication year 2015Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Emotions/Behavior: courage, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Identity: Indigenous, Life/Time: Childhood & Youth, Life/Time: Coming of Age, Life/Time: The Past, Relationships: Grandparents, Society: Colonialism, Society: CommunityTags Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Publication year 1877Genre Essay / Speech, NonfictionThemes Values/Ideas: Win & Lose, Society: War, Identity: Indigenous, Values/Ideas: Justice & InjusticeTags History: U.S., Military / War

Publication year 2018Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Identity: Sexuality, Identity: Gender, Self DiscoveryTags LGBTQ

The novel Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead was originally published in 2018 by Arsenal Pulp Press. Whitehead, a queer Indigenous writer from Peguis Frist Nation, uses the auto-fictional character of Jonny to explore the intersections of LGBTQ+ and Indigenous identity. The novel was a 2021 Canada Reads Winner and the winner of a Lambda Literary Award. It was also a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year and longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.This... Read Jonny Appleseed Summary

Publication year 1892Genre Short Story, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Love, Relationships: Fathers, Self Discovery, Relationships: Friendship

Publication year 1994Genre Novel, FictionThemes Identity: Indigenous, Natural World: Environment, Society: ColonialismTags Coming of Age / Bildungsroman

Publication year 1998Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Fear, Emotions/Behavior: Forgiveness, Emotions/Behavior: Hate & Anger, Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Religion & Spirituality, Relationships: Family, Life/Time: Childhood & Youth, Society: ColonialismTags Realistic Fiction, Coming of Age / Bildungsroman, Trauma / Abuse / Violence, Animals, Love / Sexuality, LGBTQ

Publication year 1990Genre Autobiography / Memoir, NonfictionTags Race / Racism

Published in 1990, Lakota Woman is a memoir by Mary Crow Dog, member of the Brule Tribe of the Western Sioux and activist in the American Indian Movement. Crow Dog’s book recounts her increased awareness of the subjugation of her people and of women within her own tribe. It also discusses how poverty, alcoholism, and crime on the reservations are the inevitable results of government regulations that have oppressed and dehumanized Native Americans, forcing them... Read Lakota Woman Summary