Back to top

Native American and Indigenous History & Culture; with Memoirs, Essays, and Poetry

A selection of books about Native American and Indigenous history and culture, with emphasis on books by Native American and Indigenous authors. For more books and resources on Racial Equity and Social Justice, see the resource guide Racial Equity Resources. For more reading suggestions check out the Madison Public Library Insider newsletter-- History.

History

Cover of We Are Still Here: A Photo
Dick
Bancroft

The photographs of activist Dick Bancroft, a key documentarian of AIM, provide a stunningly intimate view of this major piece of American history from 1970 to 1981. Veteran journalist Laura Waterman Wittstock, who participated in events in Washington, DC, has interviewed a host of surviving participants to tell the stories behind the images.

Cover of Black Elk Speaks
Black Elk
and John G. Neihardt

Black Elk Speaks, the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) and his people during momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century, offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk's searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made this book a classic that crosses multiple genres. Whether appreciated as the poignant tale of a Lakota life, a history of a Native nation, or an enduring spiritual testament, Black Elk Speaks is unforgettable
 

Cover of Bury My Heart at Wounded K
Dee
Brown

A true classic of American history, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is Dee Brown’s eloquent, meticulously documented account of the systematic destruction of the American Indian during the second half of the nineteenth century. Using council records, autobiographies, and firsthand descriptions, Brown allows the great chiefs and warriors of the Dakota, Ute, Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes to tell in their own words of the battles, massacres, and broken treaties that finally left them demoralized and defeated. A unique and disturbing narrative told with force and clarity, this book changed forever our vision of how the West was really won.

Available to download: eBook Audio
 

Cover of
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
and Dina Gilio-Whitaker

In this enlightening book, scholars and activists Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker tackle a wide range of myths about Native American culture and history that have misinformed generations. Tracing how these ideas evolved, and drawing from history, the authors show how these myths are rooted in the fears and prejudice of European settlers and in the larger political agendas of a settler state aimed at acquiring Indigenous land and tied to narratives of erasure and disappearance.

Available to download: eBook Audio
 

Cover of An Indigenous Peoples' His
Roxanne
Dunbar-Ortiz

Spanning more than four hundred years, this classic bottom-up peoples' history radically reframes US history and explodes the silences that have haunted our national narrative.

Available to download: eBook Audio
 

Cover of Our History is the Future:
Nick
Estes

In 2016, a small protest encampment at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, initially established to block construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, grew to be the largest Indigenous protest movement in the twenty-first century, attracting tens of thousands of Indigenous and non-Native allies from around the world. In this work, Nick Estes traces traditions of Indigenous resistance leading to the #NoDAPL movement from the days of the Missouri River trading forts through the Indian Wars, the Pick-Sloan dams, the American Indian Movement, and the campaign for Indigenous rights at the United Nations. While a historian by trade, Estes also draws on observations from the encampments and from growing up as a citizen of the Oceti Sakowin (the Nation of the Seven Council Fires), making Our History is the Future at once a work of history, a personal story, and a manifesto.

Cover of As Long as Grass Grows: Th
Dina
Gilio-Whitaker

Through the unique lens of "Indigenized environmental justice," Indigenous researcher and activist Dina Gilio-Whitaker explores the fraught history of treaty violations, struggles for food and water security, and protection of sacred sites, while highlighting the important leadership of Indigenous women in this centuries-long struggle. 

Cover of Empire of the Summer Moon:
S. C.
Gwynne

Empire of the Summer Moon spans two astonishing stories. The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: the epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches.

Available to download: Audio
 

Cover of The Inconvenient Indian: A
Thomas
King

Thomas King offers a deeply knowing, darkly funny, unabashedly opinionated, and utterly unconventional account of Indian-White relations in North America since initial contact. Ranging freely across the centuries and the Canada-U.S. border, King debunks fabricated stories of Indian savagery and White heroism, takes an oblique look at Indians (and cowboys) in film and popular culture, wrestles with the history of Native American resistance and his own experiences as a Native rights activist, and articulates a profound, revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.
 

Cover of The Other Slavery: The Unc
Andrés
Reséndez

A landmark history: the sweeping story of the enslavement of tens of thousands of Indians across America, from the time of the conquistadors up to the early 20th century.

Available to download: eBook

Cover of Everything You Wanted to K
Anton
Treuer

Treuer, an Ojibwe scholar and cultural preservationist, answers the most commonly asked questions about American Indians, both historical and modern. He gives a frank, funny, and personal tour of what's up with Indians, anyway.

Cover of The Heartbeat of Wounded K
David
Treuer

An essential, intimate history - and counter-narrative - of a resilient people in a transformative era.

Available to download: eBook Audio
 

Memoirs and Essays

Cover of You Don't Have to Say You
Sherman
Alexie

A searing, deeply moving memoir about family, love, loss, and forgiveness from the critically acclaimed, bestselling National Book Award-winning author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Available to download: eBook Audio
 

Cover of Spirit Run: A 6,000-mile M
Noé
Álvarez

The son of working-class Mexican immigrants flees a life of labor in fruit-packing plants to run in a Native American marathon from Canada to Guatemala in this "stunning memoir that moves to the rhythm of feet, labor, and the many landscapes of the Americas.

Available to download: eBook
 

Cover of A History of My Brief Body
Billy-Ray
Belcourt

A profound meditation on queerness and indigeneity from the youngest ever winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize.

Cover of A Mind Spread Out on the G
Alicia
Elliott

In an urgent and visceral work that asks essential questions about the treatment of Native people in North America while drawing on intimate details of her own life and experience with intergenerational trauma, Alicia Elliott offers indispensable insight into the ongoing legacy of colonialism. She engages with such wide-ranging topics as race, parenthood, love, mental illness, poverty, sexual assault, gentrification, writing and representation, and in the process makes connections both large and small between the past and present, the personal and political.

Cover of Crazy Brave: A Memoir
Joy
Harjo

A memoir from the Native American poet describes her youth with an abusive stepfather, becoming a single teen mom, and how she struggled to finally find inner peace and her creative voice.

Cover of Carry: A Memoir of Surviva
Toni
Jensen

A powerful, poetic memoir about what it means to exist as an Indigenous woman in America, told in snapshots of the author's encounters with gun violence.

Cover of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indig
Robin Wall
Kimmerer

As a botanist and professor of plant ecology, Robin Wall Kimmerer has spent a career learning how to ask questions of nature using the tools of science. As a Potawatomi woman, she learned from elders, family, and history that the Potawatomi, as well as a majority of other cultures indigenous to this land, consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. In this collection of essays, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowing together to reveal what it means to see humans as "the younger brothers of creation."

Available to download: eBook Audio
 

Cover of Heart Berries: A Memoir
Terese Marie
Mailhot

A powerful, poetic memoir of a woman's coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot's mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father-an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist-who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Available to download: eBook Audio
 

Cover of Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming
Darrel J.
McLeod

As a small boy in remote Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod is immersed in his Cree family's history, passed down in the stories of his mother, Bertha. But after a series of tragic losses, Bertha turns wild and unstable, and their home life becomes chaotic. Meanwhile, he begins to question and grapple with his sexual identity--a reckoning complicated by the repercussions of his abuse and his sibling's own gender transition. Thrillingly written in a series of fractured vignettes, and unflinchingly honest, Mamaskatch--"It's a wonder!" in Cree--is a heartbreaking account of how traumas are passed down from one generation to the next, and an uplifting story of one individual who broke the cycle in pursuit of a fulfilling and adventurous life.

Cover of Bury My Heart at Chuck E.
Tiffany
Midge

A powerful and inviting collection of Tiffany Midge's musings on life, politics, and identity as a Native woman in modern America.

Cover of Earth Keeper: Reflections
N. Scott
Momaday

A magnificent testament to the earth, from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and poet N. Scott Momaday.

Available to download: eBook
 

Cover of Rez Life: An Indian's Jour
David
Treuer

Novelist David Treuer examines Native American reservation life--past and present--illuminating misunderstood contemporary issues of sovereignty, treaty rights, and natural-resource conservation while also exploring crime and poverty, casinos and wealth, and the preservation of native language and culture.

Poetry

Cover of Dissolve
Sherwin
Bitsui

Drawing upon Navajo history and enduring tradition, Sherwin Bitsui leads us on a treacherous, otherworldly passage through the American Southwest. Fluidly shape-shifting and captured by language that functions like a moving camera, Dissolve is urban and rural, past and present in the haze of the reservation. Bitsui proves himself to be one of this century's most haunting, raw, and uncompromising voices.

Cover of How to be an Indian in the
Louis V.
Clark III

In deceptively simple prose and verse, Louis V. "Two Shoes" Clark III shares his life story, from childhood on the Rez, through school and into the working world, and ultimately as an elder, grandfather, and published poet. 

Cover of When My Brother Was an Azt
Natalie
Diaz

"I write hungry sentences," Natalie Diaz once explained in an interview, "because they want more and more lyricism and imagery to satisfy them." This debut collection is a fast-paced tour of Mojave life and family narrative: A sister fights for or against a brother on meth, and everyone from Antigone, Houdini, Huitzilopochtli, and Jesus is invoked and invited to hash it out. These darkly humorous poems illuminate far corners of the heart, revealing teeth, tails, and more than a few dreams.

Cover of New Poets of Native Nation
Heid E.
Erdrich, Editor

A landmark anthology celebrating twenty-one Native poets first published in the twenty-first century.

Cover of Aurum: Poems
Santee
Frazier

In Aurum, poet Santee Frazier attempts to discuss various subtle forms of oppression that Indigenous people are exposed to on a daily basis, using strong imagery to carry readers through wide-open plains and imposing cities as seen through the eyes of a Cherokee poet.
 

Cover of An American Sunrise: Poems
Joy
Harjo

In this stunning collection, Joy Harjo, the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States, finds blessings in the abundance of her homeland and confronts the site where the Mvskoke people, including her own ancestors, were forcibly displaced. From her memory of her mother's death, to her beginnings in the Native rights movement, to the fresh road with her beloved, Harjo's personal life intertwines with tribal histories to create a space for renewed beginnings. 

Cover of When the Light of the Worl
Joy
Harjo, Editor

United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo gathers the work of more than 160 poets, representing nearly 100 indigenous nations, into the first historically comprehensive Native poetry anthology. This landmark anthology celebrates the indigenous peoples of North America, the first poets of this country, whose literary traditions stretch back centuries.

Cover of Whereas
Layli
Long Soldier

Through an array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created an innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations.

Cover of Nature Poem
Tommy
Pico

A book-length poem about how an American Indian writer can't bring himself to write about nature, but is forced to reckon with colonial-white stereotypes, manifest destiny, and his own identity as an young, queer, urban-dwelling poet.

Cover of Eyes Bottle Dark With a Mo
Jake
Skeets

Selected by Kathy Fagan as a winner of the 2018 National Poetry Series, Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers is a debut collection of poems by a dazzling geologist of queer eros.