January is (finally) over! In this post, I’m going to wrap up what I read for the Own Voices Global Challenge for Indigenous America, share with you some cool playlists and accounts I love on Instagram, and we’re going to close up with a bit of info on some current topics in Indigenous America that you should be aware of. Let’s go!
What I Read
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
This book is a cornerstone of Native American young adult literature. Released in 2007, Alexie racked up a ton of awards and nominations for this book, including National Book Award for Young People and the American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Young Adult Book, but it also was banned in some places for discussing sexuality (it’s about a high school boy, what do you expect?!). It follows the trials and tribulations of high-schooler Junior as he navigates his indigenous identity. Ultimately deciding to leave the reservation school for a better education at a white school, Junior deals with the fallout among his friends back home, deals with new bullies and casual racism at his new school, and finds his feet as a basketball star. Overall, I found the book real and charming in the ways that teen books can be. I’m not a huge contemporary YA reader, so the genre didn’t help the book in my opinion, but I did like the nuance of the Indian experience in this novel.
Let me begin by saying I loved this book. I’ve gotten really into nonfiction lately, and when I heard about this book I had to get it. Shortly after, I made the global reading challenge so it worked perfectly! It’s a hefty book, filled with a lot of political discussion and history, so be prepared for that, but I think it’s an absolutely essential read for Americans. Treuer recounts Indigenous North American history from prehistory to the beginnings of colonization in the first part, so don’t let the title mislead you — it’s an absolutely comprehensive look at Native American history literally to the present day. It’s filled with stories, data, reflection, and conversation. I loved Treuer’s conversations with modern Indian people across the country, and I think the power of this book really lies in the honest and raw look at how the American government is corrupt, crooked, and ultimately deeply racist and biased. There is no making America great again, because Treuer points out that America was never great to begin with. However, this isn’t all doom and gloom and disaster. Treuer remains optimistic and hopeful, noting that while America may never have been great, we can make it great ourselves. The greatness of America isn’t in the past, but in the future that we can form and craft and shape to benefit everyone who lives here.
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
This one was hugely recommended to me. It was a quick read, taking me perhaps only a couple of hours to read. This book was also outside of my genre comfort zone, as I don’t usually read memoirs (the occasional celebrity memoir but those are limited). It wasn’t my cup of tea, I think for the genre alone, but there were some aspects I really liked. I liked the look at the modern Indigenous American identity off the reservation in the modern world. I think a lot of popular Indigenous works are popular because they take place on the reservation which is really a way for white readers to gawk at the Otherness of Indigenous people. I also liked the frank discussion of mental health and the struggles that people who are neuro-divergent and/or traumatized face when they are dealing with people in their lives who don’t get what mental health can be like. I’ll be honest: I did not like Casey, and I was quite upset to hear that Mailhot had continued her relationship with him. Oh, well. To each her own!
P.S. I started Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (pictured above), but I just couldn’t get into the story. Edgy supernatural fiction isn’t really my speed!
What I Listened to
I like to tune my playlists to what I’m reading. While I was reading Treuer’s book and Mailhot’s memoir, I wanted a playlist that helped me settle into the Indigenous American world and music is a huge way that I do that. I found a set of playlists on Spotify, and particularly enjoyed listening to a variety of genres and styles of music (search Native America on Spotify to find the genre!). Here’s what I most enjoyed:
- This is Redbone – I’m obsessed with “Come and Get Your Love” and “The Witch Queen of New Orleans”.
- Dreamcatcher – This was a great instrumental playlist, but it did make me kinda sleepy.
- This is Mary Youngblood – A mix of singing and instrumentals, this playlist was really soothing and relaxing.
Who I Followed
I follow some great instagram accounts for Indigenous people who share great resources, make amazing art, and are activists for the modern Indigenous American community. These are just a few of the ones I engage with, so make sure to follow links, explore their pages, and support them if you can! Share their work, find new voices, and listen to them. They’re amazing!
- @maybell.eequay – Maybell is such a beautiful soul and makes such amazing traditional Indigenous art. Her bitten birchbark art is so insane and beautiful! She often sells her beadwork via her stories so keep your eyes peeled! She also shares a lot about her tribe’s native language which is really interesting and a huge issue in the Indigenous community as the languages struggle to survive.
- @lamalayerbalove – Xochitlcoatl is an indigi-queer activist who shares inspiring and affirming messages on their page at the same time that they work to dismantle patriarchal, racist, and exclusive structures in the world. They are positive, affirming, and spiritual. Great resource to learn about the intersections of identity.
- @the_sioux_chef – I learned about Sean Sherman from Treuer’s book and was so intrigued by his mission to make food with the indigenous ingredients that the Indigenous populations of the northern US would have used. His food is so beautiful and looks so yummy. He’s also an activist for Indigenous people and speaks often about Native American history being American history.
Finally, I want to close out with some links to info that you should know about.
- Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: According to the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, 4 out of 5 Indigenous women are affected by violence and they are 10 times more likely to be murdered. These are shocking and terrifying numbers. The MMIW movement is seeking to bring public awareness to this issue, help find missing girls and women, solve their murders, and change the patriarchal and sexists mindsets that allow this violence to continue unchecked. Check this site to find out more about this movement and how you can help those affected.
- Racist Sports Mascots: This weekend is Super Bowl Weekend, and this year, the Kansas City Chiefs are playing on the biggest field in the world. The use of Native American imagery, tropes, and stereotypes in sports is not news, but for the first time in a while, this fight is being taken to the national stage with the Super Bowl. Here in Atlanta, we have our own history of negative stereotypes in sports, as for years the Braves national baseball team used a Native American mascot and still performs tomahawk cheers in the stands. Tara Houska took to the New York Times to share her grievances and griefs on this topic in a moving essay about the damage of this old-fashioned racism.
- Me Too and Sherman Alexie: This was something that I wanted to bring up since I did read an Alexie novel for this challenge. In 2018, Alexie was stripped of his American Indian Youth Literature Award following allegations of sexual misconduct from women who worked with Alexie. At the time, the world of children’s publishing was beginning to tremble with allegations and ramifications of a culture of sexual harassment and abuse from men in the community with power. Anne Ursu wrote an expose for Medium that revealed a dangerous environment in the world of children’s book publishing. Since the news broke, Alexie has released a statement in which he suggests that while the encounters with other women happened, he did not intimidate or threaten their careers — basically that the encounters were consensual. Alexie has been striped of awards and the scholarship named after him at the Institute of American Indian Arts has been renamed. Sexual harassment, rape, and denial about these issues continue to plague modern institutions. We must continue to support survivors, believe them, and hold men in power accountable for their actions. Visit the Me Too Movement to learn more.
I hope you enjoyed the titles you read this month for Indigenous America! Share with me below what you read. Also, please share with me any other resources, news, activists, creatives, or titles that you think display the diversity and beauty in Indigenous American Own Voices. Happy reading!