Nov. 3, 3017

“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children” — Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Lakota holy man and chief

“If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.” — Sherman Alexie, author and member of the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene tribes

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Each year, National Native American Heritage Month is celebrated in November. It’s a great time to learn more about native people, including their history and contributions to the United States, as well as how they continue to keep their rich culture alive today.

Did you know that there are 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States? Indiana, itself, is named for its tribal history, the “Land of the Indians.”

The Miami, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Delaware, Shawnee, Mia, Wea, Piankeshaws and others built thriving tribal nations in the lands of our state. If you look up Native American place names in Indiana, you will find more than three pages of cities, towns, rivers and more whose origins are from the native people of Indiana. Our own Crispus Attucks (the namesake of Crispus Attucks High School) is believed to have a mother who was Wampanog and lived in the first Christian tribal village of Natick.

Today, our country is still coming to terms with the legacy of its persecution of our native peoples. The terrible devastation of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and other boarding schools like it is finally being brought more strongly into the light. If you would like to read about the lasting impact of these dehumanizing “schools,” you might start with this PBS site: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865

For younger readers, I suggest:

  • “When I Was Eight” and its companion title “Not My Girl” by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

For middle grade readers, I suggest:

  • “My Name is Seepeetza” by Shirley Sterling and “A Stranger at Home” by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

For young adult and adult readers, I suggest:

  • “Sweetgrass Basket” by Marlene Carvell, “I Am Not a Number” by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, and “Fatty Legs” by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

The story of the hundreds of Native American nations of the United States is not simply an historic one. Contemporary members of tribal nations continue to make their mark in our world. Below are a just a few of the many prominent Native Americans whose lives and legacies are impacting our world today.

There are books and resources available about each of these amazing people; check out this website to learn more: https://www.biography.com/people/groups/native-americans

Notable Native Americans:

  • John Herrington: Astronaut
  • Cory Witherill: Indy 500 Race Car Driver
  • Notah Begay III: PGA Pro Golfer
  • Sherman Alexie: Poet, Author
  • Maria Tallchief: Prima Ballerina
  • Wilma Mankiller- Women’s Rights Activist
  • Susan La Flesche Picotte: Doctor
  • Jim Thorpe: Olympic Gold Medalist

Happily, there are more books for youth readers that celebrate the beauty and resilience of the native nations of the United States! Many of the authors listed have additional titles worth your time and attention. Here are a few newer titles I would suggest:

Picture Books

  • “Thunder Boy Jr.” by Sherman Alexie
  • “Jingle Dancer” by Cynthia Leitch Smith
  • “Little You” by Richard Van Camp
  • “The Christmas Coat: Memories of my Sioux Childhood” by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
  • “Greet the Dawn the Lakota Way” by S.D. Nelson
  • “Muskrat Will Be Swimming” by Cheryl Savageau
  • “Kamik Joins the Pack” by Darryl Baker
  • “You Hold Me Up” by Monique Gray Smith

Novels

  • “Talking Leaves” by Joseph Bruchac
  • “Indian Shoes” by Cynthia Leitch Smith
  • “The Birchbark House” (series) by Louise Erdrich
  • “Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie (Young adult)
  • “How I Became a Ghost” by Tim Tingle

In addition to books, it’s also great to be able to explore and learn about the rich history of Native Americans up close and personal. Indianapolis is very lucky to have the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. If you have not had an opportunity to visit the museum, I highly recommend it. If you have been, go again! Exhibits change frequently. On Nov. 11, the Eiteljorg will open “Native Art Now!” — three exhibitions, including a sneak peek of a new native contemporary documentary, the release of a new Eiteljorg contemporary art book, and opportunities to meet and talk to Eliteljorg Museum Fellows and Distinguished Artists (contemporary Native American artists who have received national recognition for their works).The Eiteljorg’s permanent collection of tribal art, especially that of Indiana’s own native tribal communities, is also wonderful. For more information, visit the Eiteljorg website.

If you are looking for an even greater adventure, you can head to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. or tour it digitally.

Finally, you will find many wonderful resources through PBS at the following sites:

https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/NativeAmericanHeritage/#.WeKIxmhSyUk

http://www.pbs.org/specials/native-american-heritage-month/

I hope this list will help you to fully embrace and celebrate our native nations throughout the year — not just in November!