We asked five of our scholarship recipients to share recommendations for a book that helped them better understand culture, heritage, and what it means to be an American Indian. Below is a list of books about boarding schools, strong Native women, and the modern urban Indian. The perspectives of our Native scholars provide a glimpse into the voices and rich narratives that shape, define, and inspire them. Seeing American Indians in literature validates our contributions that make up the rich tapestry of our shared history. Books also provide a vehicle to learn more about who we are, what we dream of, what drives us, and what inspires us every day.
We invite you to read the books from our list. What values and perspectives do we share? What makes us unique and special? Let’s celebrate Native American Heritage Month by identifying our shared understandings.
I highly recommend Perma Red. It’s based in the Flathead Reservation in Montana and is about a young Native woman fighting her way through life by facing and overcoming hard challenges that are presented to her.
I connected with some of the young woman’s challenges of being a Native woman, including the intergenerational trauma she endured and how she had the strength to overcome those situations.
This book was written and illustrated by a staff member at Navajo Technical University, where I’m currently attending. Personally, I really like this book not just for the illustrations, but because the storyline is important to me.
Fall in Line, Holden! shares a dark time in Native history: boarding schools. It’s an important topic that is rarely addressed and we learn about it through Holden’s experience and discoveries. He uses his imagination to push beyond the rigidity of his world to see a different world.
I was Holden growing up and as I read this book, it took me back to my youth. I, too, was told to “fall in line” and was surrounded by a whole world that expected me to follow very strict rules. But like Holden, my imagination would transform something strict to something beautiful. This book gave me a better understanding of myself and my elders and how they had their identity taken away but not their imagination.
I was always interested in books written by Native authors and it is really empowering to see how they inspire Native youth. I’m encouraged that I, too, can write something in the future that will inspire other people like this book inspired me.
This is one of my favorite books and it’s special to me because Mountain Wolf Woman is my great-great-grandmother. She was my mother’s father’s mother’s mother. It was quite an experience reading it for a class assignment, hearing the names of her kids, and learning about her life experiences.
Learning how hard it was to raise her family was so powerful and helped me realize I can raise a family and be a strong-willed woman like her. I think her story is important to share because it gives an inside glimpse of the hardships my ancestors endured and it shows the cultural side as well. I think that’s why it was important for the author to capture her story and rewrite it word-for-word in English.
This outstanding novel is everything I’ve ever wanted in an urban Native story. The characters are strong, and their world feels dangerous and beautiful. It’s Oakland like I’ve never read it before. Story matters, voice matters, and Tommy Orange expertly crafts a powerful saga of trauma, community, and kinship.
Reading Tommy’s book for the first time was an unfamiliar experience, which is odd because I connected to the characters so well. That’s to say, the familiarity I had with the characters in the book was something I wasn’t familiar with. I think anyone who ever grew up in a Native family or community will recognize bits and pieces of their own lives in this work. He’s accomplished something rare: the specific references to the general and we are all better off for it.
Tommy was also the first person to help me with the novel I’m currently writing. He mentored me as part of the Institute of American Indian Arts’ Low Residency Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing program, which was a wonderful experience.
My children and I enjoy reading I Am Not A Number as a family. My grandfather did not share his boarding school era experiences with my mother and therefore I did not have much knowledge regarding this important time in our history.
This book has helped me and my children understand the boarding school era a little more in-depth. It is important for me to gain knowledge on this topic because I am a direct descendent of people who experienced this historical event. I think understanding my family history will help me to better understand myself.