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Native American Heritage Month: Books to add to your reading list

November 7, 2017

Maureen Fitzgerald

ATTC Network Coordinating Office

Awareness months such as November’s Native American Heritage Month can be a great time to challenge ourselves to learn more about Native Americans’ history and culture, as well as their experiences today. 

Start by adding books by American Indian authors to your reading list. If you're looking for book recommendations, consult Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis owned by Native American novelist Louise Erdrich. Erdrich's books and poetry have won numerous awards; her 2016 novel LaRose won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.

A dedicated team of booklovers operates Birchbark Books. Store manager and artist Carolyn Anderson suggests the following titles for behavioral health professionals who want to learn more about Native Americans:

Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask

Another title you can pick up (or order online) at Birchbark Books is Anton Treur's Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask. If you’ve ever hesitated to ask a question about Indian traditions, practices, or culture out of fear of risking offense, this book is for you.  
Treuer, a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, grew up on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. He also spent part of his childhood in Washington D.C., where his mother, Margaret Treuer, was attending law school. (She went on to become Minnesota’s first Indian female attorney.)
Treuer first published the book in 2012 as a follow-up to a lecture series he’d completed. He introduces the questions by qualifying that he does not speak for all Indians and encourages readers to not be afraid to reach out to Native people for other perspectives and information.  

Hear Treuer talk about Columba's Day and his book on this 2012 interview with NPR

Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask addresses many of the myths that persist about Indians. One particular myth of the many that Treuer would like to dispel is that Indians are not modern people: 

 “Many different things inform identity, including heredity, connections to tribal communities, traditional lifeways, and tribal languages. Each of those dimensions of identity might be threatened for many Indian people, but what it means to be Indian is both complicated and very real, in spite of the presuppositions engendered by movies and stereotypes.” (From p.43).  

More reading and viewing ideas 

You'll find another book by Anton Treuer on the list from Penguin/Random House: There's a Book for That: Native American Heritage Month
For books for children and young adults, check out this list from The American Indians in Children's Literature blog. 

And if you'd like to combine your reading with online viewing, celebrate Native American Heritage Month with a special collection of films and stories from Public Television.

What resources have helped you better understand cultures and populations you’re not familiar with? 
We’d love to hear from you!  Comment below or on our social media pages—be sure to add links!   

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