“Oak Flat” is the name of a mesa in the Southeastern Arizona desert, and it’s also an unresolved conflict, pitting some of the poorest, most under-resourced Americans against the power and wealth of the U.S. government and multinational corporations. It’s a place that’s sacred to the San Carlos tribe, but when a copper reserve was discovered nearby, ensuing plans threatened to wipe the location off the map entirely. This work of deep reporting follows two families, one supportive of the mine and one against, as it exposes the threads around this conflict.
Sierra Crane Murdoch
This true crime novel follows Lissa Yellow Bird, who returned to her home on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation after serving time in prison to find the landscape much changed—the discovery of oil had transformed the reservation. When a young white oil worker disappears and no one seems interested in finding what happened to him, Lissa takes it upon herself to investigate to discover his fate and atone for her own past.
Sabrina & Corina
This collection of thought-provoking and searing stories features Latinx women of indigenous descent making lives for themselves in Denver, Colorado. Fajardo-Anstine explores themes of female power, violence against women, abandonment, and what it means to find the place where you belong, a place where you can call home.
This seminal novel, which won an American Book Award, follows 12 different characters, all of indigenous descent, as they head to Oakland, California, for the Big Powwow. These people are very different from one another, yet they are all connected in some way. These disparate stories come together powerfully to tell a larger story about Native Americans today—who they are, what they stand for, and their connection to their heritage.
Cynthia Leitich Smith
It’s Louise Wolfe’s senior year in high school, and she barely has time to think about the boyfriend she just dumped: She’s going to cover the school’s inclusive production of The Wizard of Oz, which has been making waves in their conservative small town. As Lou immerses herself in the story, and begins to fall for the guy assigned to cover it with her, she must contend with threats and hostility against this school production—and Native people like herself.
The Grass Dancer
This ambitious novel is set on a Native reservation in the U.S., telling interconnected stories that weave their way from the 1800s to the present. It’s at once a reminder of the history that many have forgotten (or perhaps never learned at all) and a thoughtful examination of what indigenous life looks like today.
This incredible novel is by an acclaimed Inuit throat singer, set in the harsh landscape of Nunavat in the Canadian Arctic. It sets the story of a young woman who becomes pregnant against the stark and unforgiving environment, the myths and legends that live among us, the alcoholism that ravages the Inuit community, bringing these various threads together to tell a complex and meaningful story that you won’t soon forget.
The Things She's Seen
This young adult thriller, told partly in verse, features Beth Teller, who died in a car accident and now the only person she can communicate with her is her father, a detective who’s drowning in his grief. But now, he has a new case to solve, and Beth is determined to help him out to remind him that he still has a lot to live for. They head to a remote Australian town, where Isobel Catching may be a key witness to the murder, if they can only unlock the mysteries behind the riddles she delivers.
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee
This incredible history of the Native people of the United States picks up after the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, which many have marked as the beginning of the end of indigenous culture in the country. David Treuer is on a mission, though, to show that it was anything but—he grew up Ojibwe on a reservation, and he shows in this mix of memoir and journalism that the indigenous population of the U.S. is resourceful and intent on preserving their languages, cultures, and more, even in the face of unspeakable horror at the hands of the U.S. government.
In northern Arizona, basketball is at the heart of one Navajo reservation. Called Rez Ball, it’s a tradition passed down from grandparent to parent to child, and it’s much more than a sport to the locals. This book is a close examination of what basketball means to this community, and through that lens, it’s an intimate and powerful portrayal of life on a reservation, the issues these communities are grappling with, and the role sport can play for kids and adults alike.
Leslie Marmon Silko
A modern classic, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony follows Tayo, a World War II veteran who’s been scarred by his experiences during the war at the hands of the Japanese as a prisoner. Now, he’s returning home to the Laguna Pueblo Reservation and is completely lost. Silko follows Tayo’s journey as he must come to terms with who he is, his past experiences, as well as reconnect with his heritage and all that may mean.
Lost Children Archive
A road trip across the United States—from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer—will change one family forever. As the nameless family heads toward their destination, intent on studying and learning about the history of the Apache Indians, circumstances along the way—and the crisis of undocumented immigrants at the border—will alter the dynamics of their journey irrevocably.
American Indian Stories
This short story collection, first published in 1921, is iconic in its portrayal of indigenous children pressured to submit to white cultural norms. Zitkálá-Sá was born on a Sioux reservation, and her goal was to spread the word about her rich, vibrant culture in the face of assimilation. It’s a thoughtful look at Native traditions and history in the context of a culture under attack from the outside.
It’s easy to think you know the story of another culture (or even your own). But races and cultures aren’t a monolith, and indigenous people, who are often lumped under one designation, are incredibly different than one another. One way to explore these fabulous cultures, and their often-tragic histories at the hands of colonialists, is to dive into books about them.
This list of books about indigenous people from around the world features Native voices writing about their own experiences and cultures in both fiction and nonfiction, as well as journalists and writers from the outside who are highlighting the plights they face.
Featured image: Kevon Nicholas