Indigenous Book Club Month: Books by Native authors

A collection of books by Native authors
A collection of books by Native authors
Tom Weber | MPR News

This June, we're highlighting books by Native authors as part of Indigenous Book Club Month.

The idea came from Canada's Minister for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett. In an interview with the CBC, Bennett said: "We're hoping to make June Indigenous Book Club month, such that all the book clubs in Canada could pick an indigenous author or the book of an ally."

To build a reading list, MPR News host Tom Weber asked three avid readers to suggest titles. Patina Park, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Woman's Resource Center; Rhiana Yazzie, a playwright and artistic director of New Native Theatre; and Odia Wood-Krueger, a teacher in the office of Indian Education for Minneapolis Public Schools, shared their favorites.

For people who don't know where to start, Park often suggests Anton Treuer's "Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask." Treuer, who teaches at Bemidji State University, has "a nice way of explaining complicated historical and emotional issues in a straight forward way," Park said. "And it's easy reading. Anybody at any level can read that book and leave with something meaningful for them."

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Park also emphasized that books by Native authors are for everyone. "Does it have to be its own kind of writing form? Like 'this is an indigenous book'? Or is just a really good book that everyone should read, that doesn't have to be in a special classification?"

Book by Native authors and allies: A reading list

"Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask" by Anton Treuer

"The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway" by Edward Benton-Banai

"'The Mishomis Book' is technically a kid's book, but it has such incredibly knowledge that I think if adults read it, they will get a whole lot out of it," Wood-Krueger said.

"Sacred Tree: Reflections on Native American Spirituality" by Judie Bopp, Michael Bopp, Lee Brown and Phil Lane Jr.

"Me Funny" by Drew Hayden Taylor

This book "filets the Native sense of humor in such a delicious way," Yazzie said. "When we connect through laughter and humor ... that's a really wonderful way to get into the mind and the heart of a person."

"The Birchbark House" by Louise Erdrich

This book is the first of four in Erdrich's series for children. "There's so much cultural knowledge in here, and you fall in love with the main character," Wood-Krueger said. "It sucks you in, and it's sort of a cultural primary school where you can follow along and learn all the things that happen in a cyclical way."

"Plague of Doves" by Louise Erdrich

"Plague of Doves" is the first in the informal trilogy that includes "The Round House," which won the National Book Award, and "LaRose," which was released this spring to rave reviews. The novels circle an Objiwe community in North Dakota, exploring family ties and the weight of history.

"In Search of April Raintree" by Beatrice Culleton Mosionier

This book follows two First Nation sisters in Canada who enter the foster system. "I love this book," said Yazzie. "It just made me cry every single tear I had in me .... I love reading this yearly. It just touches your heart as a Native woman and as a sister."

The Cork O'Connor series by William Kent Krueger

Krueger is not a Native author, but Park noted that he does "a really nice job of capturing the Ojibwe experience with Cork O'Connor, a half-Irish, half-Ojibwe character." O'Connor is a former sheriff turned private investigator who investigates crimes throughout Minnesota.

"Sa�nii Dahataal" by Luci Tapahonso

From Yazzie: "Tapahonso is the poet laureate of the Navajo Nation. She writes in English and Navajo; the poems follow her everyday travels living in the Shiprock area of the Navajo reservation and even memories about visiting far off places like the Eiffel Tower. This book of poems comes deep within the worldview of the Native experience."

"How I Became a Ghost" by Tim Tingle

From Wood-Krueger: "This book delves into the connection to land and the challenges the Choctaw faced during the forced relocation known as the Trail of Tears. The story is through the eyes of a young boy and his dog and includes a wonderful view into Choctaw cosmology."

"Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII" by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila

From Wood-Krueger: "This non-fiction selection is an interesting read (even for folks who might not be interested this era of history). I was particularly moved by how poorly the U.S. government treated the Navajos and, despite this treatment, Navajos signed up for the Code Talker project (and the war in general) in droves."

"Fatty Legs" and "A Stranger at Home" by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

From Wood-Krueger: "Like many Native-authored books, these will break your heart with their trauma yet fill you with hope at the resiliency of the character(s). These books are based on the childhood experiences of co-author Margaret as she enters boarding school in Canada's Arctic and the challenges she encounters as she re-enters her home community. I believe it's important for everyone to know the trauma associated with the boarding school era so non-indigenous folks won't be so quick to ask, 'Why can't they just 'get over it'?'"

"The Road Back to Sweetgrass" by Linda LeGarde Grover

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"My Grandfather's Knocking Sticks" by Brenda J. Child

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"All the Way: My Life on Ice" by Jordin Tootoo

"One Native Life" by Richard Wagamese

"A Quality of Light" by Richard Wagamese

"The Night Wanderer" by Drew Hayden Taylor

"Sweetest Kulu" by Celina Kalluk

"The Outside Circle" by Patti Laboucane-Benson

"The Giving Tree" by Leah Marie Dorion

"Lightfinder" by Aaron Maquette

"The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America" by Thomas King

"A Coyote Columbus Story" by Thomas King

"The Gift is in the Making: Anishinaabeg Stories" by Leanne Simpson

"My Name is Not Easy" by Debby Dahl Edwardson

"Rez Life" by David Treuer

"Prudence" by David Treuer

"Motorcycles & Sweetgrass" by Drew Hayden Taylor

"Talking Sky, Ojibwe Constellations as a Reflection of Life on the Land" by Carl Gawboy and Ron Morton

"The Sacred Hoop, Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions" by Paula Gunn Allen

"Three Day Road" by Joseph Boyden

"Custer Died for Your Sins" by Vine Deloria, Jr.

"The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fight in Heaven" by Sherman Alexie

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

Look for more interviews with Native authors later this month.