Books to Read About Native Americans

Today is Monday, November 25, 2013.

Here are some books for adults about historical and present-day Native Americans.  Some I have already read, some I am reading right now, and some are on my wish list.

lamedeerLame Deer, Seeker of Visions, by John (Fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes.

There are inexpensive used copies of this book floating around, or perhaps your library has a copy.  It’s a great primer of information about traditional Native culture, customs, and spirituality.  John (Fire) Lame Deer lived from 1900 or 1903 (sources differ) to 1976.   He was a Mineconju-Lakota Sioux born on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.  He spent time in a boarding school for Indian children, then worked as a rodeo clown, while living a very rough life.  Eventually, he met a woman who was a Keeper of the Sacred Red Pipe, who told him that she had been waiting for him.  After this meeting, he became a “medicine man”  (wicasha wakan) or holy man.   Lame Deer asked his friend, Richard Erdoes, an author of many books about Native Americans, to help him write his life story.  The book was published by Simon & Schuster in 1972.   I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and will probably re-read it.  The information in this book has helped me understand much about how Native American people think and why many of them are so angry today.


treuerCoverFINALEverything You  Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask by Anton Treuer.

This is a newer paperback, published by Borealis Books, an imprint of the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Dr. Treuer is Ojibwe, from Minnesota.  He is Executive Director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University in Minnesota. He earned his B.A. from Princeton University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Minnesota.  He is the recipient of many awards for his books.  This particular book is written in Question and Answer style, very straightforward, very clearly written, and engaging.  The questions Treuer answers in the book range from terminology (how to refer to Native Americans), history, spirituality, culture, powwows, tribal languages, politics, land issues, economics, education, and some touchy subjects such as white privilege, institutional racism, and why Native activists are so angry.  I’m glad I bought the book, and I intend to keep it as a reference.


Star MoundsStar Mounds: Legacy of a Native American Mystery, by Ross Hamilton.

Ross Hamilton is not Native American that I know of, but there is very little information about him on the web.  He was born in New York in 1948 and graduated from the University of Cincinnati.  He is a writer and researcher who specializes in North American prehistory.  He seeks to understanding what the ancient inhabitants of North America knew by studying the Ohio Hopewell earthworks and collecting over fifty “medicine stories” inspired by Native American mythology that showcase the advanced astronomical and spiritual knowledge of the indigenous people of Turtle Island, or North America.  The book is in paperback, with full-color illustrations.  Hamilton is also the author of  Tradition of Giants, about the race of mound-building giants of North America.  This is a book that I have not started reading, but it’s in a stack of books that I have recently bought.  My interest in the book is based on an interview with Ross Hamilton on Tiokasin Ghosthorse’s “First Voices Indigenous Radio” broadcast, out of WBAI in New York.


liesLies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Teacher Got Wrong, by James W. Loewen.

The Second Edition, in paperback, was published in 2007 by Simon and Schuster, Inc.  Loewen spent two years at the Smithsonian Institute studying twelve leading high school textbooks of American History.  What he found in those textbooks was “bland optimism, blind patriotism, and misinformation.”   His book is not only a critique of those textbooks, but also a retelling of American History the way it should be taught.  Native Americans have been particularly enthusiastic about the book, which is why I bought it.  In particular, the early chapters are important to the way we look at and think about Native Americans.  Chapter 1 is called “Handicapped by History: The Process of Hero-making.  Chapter 2 is called “1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus.”  Chapter 3 is called “The Truth About the  First Thanksgiving.”  Chapter 4 is called “Red Eyes.”   If you can, at least borrow this book from your library and read these four chapters.  The rest of the book has information about the Civil War and Reconstruction,  Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, and the MyLai massacre during the Vietnam conflict, among other things.


gift of powerGift of Power: The Life and Teachings of a Lakota Medicine Man, by Archie Fire Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes.

Archie is John (Fire) Lame Deer’s son, who has followed in his father’s footsteps to become a Lakota holy man in his own right.  As Richard Erdoes says in his introduction, Archie is an even better storyteller than his father.  I’m really looking forward to reading this, because I enjoyed his father’s book so much.





custerCuster Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, by Vine Deloria, Jr.

This book was originally published in 1969 by Macmillan.  The paperback edition I have is from 1988, published by University of Oklahoma Press.   One person who was writing a critique of Russell Means’ autobiography contrasted Means and Deloria by saying that Deloria writes without so much anger, and with a great deal more solid scholarship than Means.  This book is written with a touch of humor and gives a unique Native American perspective on U.S. race relations, federal bureaucracies, Christian churches, and social scientists.   Vine Deloria, Jr. (1933 – 2005) was born in Martin, SD, near the Pine Ridge Reservation.  His grandfather was an Episcopal priest and a leader of the Yankton band of Dakota Sioux.  He was educated at reservations schools and brought up in the Episcopal faith.  His father was a missionary on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota.  Deloria’s aunt was anthropologist Ella Deloria.  He attended Iowa State University, earning a degree in general science, then served in the marines for two years.  After getting out of the military, he earned a degree in theology from the Lutheran School of Theology.  In the late 1960s, he went back to graduate school to get a law degree from the University of Colorado, which he earned in 1970. If you only consider the title of the book, you may think it must be the rantings of an angry young man, but when you take into consideration his background and training, you realize that he knows whereof he speaks.


genocideGenocide of the Mind: New Native American Writing, edited by MariJo Moore.

This is a collection of essays that brings the Native American experience into the twenty-first century. Contributors include: Paula Gunn Allen, Simon Ortiz, Sherman Alexie, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Maurice Kenny, as well as emerging writers from various tribes.   Included is a forward by Vine Deloria.  This one is sitting on my table, and I’m looking forward to reading it very soon.





every dayEvery Day is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women, Memorial Edition, by Wilma P. Mankiller.

Wilman Mankiller (1945 – 2010) was the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation.  She engaged twenty indigenous women over a period of several years in conversations about issues facing modern Native Americans, including spirituality, traditional life, Native culture, tribal governments, female role models, and community life.  These women were leaders, educators, healers, attorneys, artists, elders, and activists.  Their frank and open discussion provides a rare glimpse into the life of modern Native Americans.   🙂


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