Read Different: Go Native

Native storytellers

As the saying goes, “variety is the spice of life.” This applies to our reading choices, too. As a writer, I love to read – that goes without saying for most writers. But the hardest part can be finding something new and unusual; finding stories written from a different perspective, as long as it’s not considered “mainstream”. If you’re looking to support writers who share stories different from yours, I recommend you try Native American authors.

I’ve been reading fiction and nonfiction from several prolific Native authors for over twenty years. I discovered them on treasure hunts through the fiction aisles of libraries (and from there I found their nonfiction works as well). You don’t have to be an Indian to enjoy a culturally specific story; the details are rich and paint a story not unlike your own, just with a different brush. We’re far more alike than we sometimes care to admit and it’s good to learn from others’ experiences and unfamiliar settings.

The following is a short list of some of my personal favorites. Some of them, like Kent Nerburn, Joseph Marshall, and Priscilla Cogan, I go back and read at least once a year because they teach me life lessons that remind me of what’s important.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (nonfiction)

This is a true story of how Osage Indians, after discovering oil on their lands and becoming rich, were systematically murdered. It was the first major homicide case for the FBI; together with the Osage, the FBI managed to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies of murder in America.  “It is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long.” A can’t-put-it-down kind of book.

Kent Nerburn

These books tell a story of a white man’s physical and spiritual adventures with a Lakota elder. A humorous, touching, and eye/spirit-opening adventure that spans three books. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop.

  1. Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder
  2. The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows
  3. The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo: A Child, an Elder, and the Light from an Ancient Sky

Priscilla Cogan

These are a fictional trilogy of spiritual adventure. Maggie, a white woman, meets Winona Pathfinder and her spiritual journey begins; a mix of Lakota and Christian beliefs. I loved all three books; I read them again and again.

  1. Winona’s Web
  2. Compass of the Heart
  3. Crack at Dusk Crook of Dawn

Lakota Westerns by Joseph M. Marshall III (Lakota) – I love westerns and these are my favorite fiction works by Joseph Marshall. He is a prolific writer and the scenes he paints with his pen have you right there with Cloud and his people, in their struggles to survive as whites encroach on their lands.

  1. Hundred in the Hand – a fictional account of the Battle of the Hundred in the Hand (the Fetterman Massacre) as seen through the eyes of Cloud, a warrior fighting alongside Crazy Horse (whose younger brother, Little Wolf, was actually killed in this battle at the ripe old age of 19, ten years prior to the death of Crazy Horse).
  2. The Long Knives are Crying – the second in the series, picks up around 1875 as the Lakota face the inevitable arrival of whites, still through the eyes of Cloud, now much older and the last generation of “free” Indians.

Here is one of his fabulous nonfictions:

The Journey of Crazy Horse – drawn on oral stories from elders, Joseph paints a picture of Crazy Horse the man, not the legend. A beautiful read.

James Welch (Blackfeet)

  1. Fools Crow – first published in 1986, it’s a fictional account of Blackfeet life in 1870, through the eyes of Fools Crow, a young warrior and medicine man. A gorgeous story.
  2. The Heartsong of Charging Elk – this is a true story. Charging Elk, Oglala Sioux, joins Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show but is left behind in a hospital in Marseille, France after a serious injury. He is forced to remake his life alone in a strange land. Sadly, the book ends when Charging Elk is only thirty-three; James died in 2000 while working on the second half of Charging Elk’s story (marriage and descendants).

The Last Algonquian by Ted Kazimiroff – This is the true story of (Joe) Two Trees, the last of his people, living alone in Pelham Bay, New York (up to 1924). He befriends a young boy scout (the author’s father) and recounts his sad story in great detail. (Graves of his parents and dog are located in Long Island City, NY.)

The Heart of Everything That Is by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin – an unusual and factual account of Red Cloud, Lakota chief; rich in historically accurate information, thanks to the discovery of Red Cloud’s lost autobiography. Good if you like historical works.

And last, but certainly not least:

Black Elk Speaks as told through John G. Neihardt – the meeting of a white man in 1932 with the great medicine man Black Elk (Lakota), who told John his life story (through a translator). A beautiful, sad telling of the tragedies that befell the Lakota in the latter part of the 19th century. Black Elk takes you back in time to his life, his people, including his first cousin, Crazy Horse.