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Penn Libraries News

Featured Books and DVDs: Native American Heritage

For this month’s selections, the Penn Libraries partnered with Penn Native Community Council (PNCC).

A multicolored stack of books sits next to a stack of DVDs on a rock surrounded by fallen leaves. A few of the titles include books American Indian Stories, Warrior Poet, and Sound Relations; and DVDs Smoke Signals, Rabbit-Proof Fence, and Skins.

The Penn Libraries invites you to celebrate Native American Heritage Month, beginning November 1, by exploring some of the great works in our collections that were created by people indigenous to the United States and North America. With books ranging from academic sociological works to comedic essays, as well as films both documentary and fictional, these selections offer slices of life from a diversity of Native American communities and experiences.

For this month’s selections, the Penn Libraries partnered with Penn Native Community Council (PNCC), which was formed in 2018 to highlight the histories, heritage, and cultures of the Native American, First Nations, and Indigenous peoples of the Americas. More information on PNCC and other Native American initiatives at Penn is available through the Natives at Penn website.

As always, you can find the selections highlighted below, and many more, on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books.

Note: The descriptions below are collected from publishers and edited for brevity and clarity.  


Upon Her Shoulders: Southeastern Native Women Share Their Stories of Justice, Spirit, and Community Edited by Mary Ann Jacobs, Cherry Maynor Beasley, and Ulrike Wiethaus

This collection of stories, poems, and prose honors the Native American tradition of passing on knowledge through stories and oral histories and highlights Native female voices in the Southeast, a region and its peoples rarely covered in other publications. With contributions by both professional and everyday writers, the collection spotlights these societies that have raised girls from an early age to be independent and competent leaders, to access traditional Native spirituality despite religious oppression, and to fight for justice for themselves and other Native people across the nation in the face of legal and societal oppression.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

This young adult novel is set in a future world in which people have lost the ability to dream, and this dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America's indigenous population — and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow — and dreams — means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a 15-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones, and take refuge from the “recruiters” who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing “factories.”

Poet Warrior: A Memoir by Joy Harjo

In the second memoir from the first Native American to serve as US poet laureate, Harjo invites readers to travel along the heartaches, losses, and humble realizations of her "poet-warrior" road. A musical, kaleidoscopic meditation, Poet Warrior reveals how Harjo came to write poetry of compassion and healing, poetry with the power to unearth the truth and demand justice. Weaving together the voices that shaped her, Harjo listens to stories of ancestors and family, the poetry and music that she first encountered as a child, the teachings of a changing earth, and the poets who paved her way.

Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese's by Tiffany Midge

Humor categories in publishing are packed with books by funny women and humorous sociocultural-political commentary—but no Native women, until now. This collection of musings on life, politics, and identity as a Native woman in America artfully blends sly humor, social commentary, and meditations on love and loss. Employing humor as an act of resistance, these slices of life and matchless takes on urban-Indigenous identity disrupt the colonial narrative and provide commentary on popular culture, media, feminism, and the complications of identity, race, and politics.

Indians in Unexpected Places by Philip J. Deloria

Despite the passage of time, our vision of Native Americans remains locked up within powerful stereotypes. Deloria rewrites the story of the national encounter with modernity, providing revealing accounts of Indians doing unexpected things. These “secret histories,” Deloria suggests, compel us to reconsider our own current expectations about what Indian people should be, how they should act, and even what they should look like. More important, he shows how such seemingly harmless expectations contribute to the racism and injustice that still haunt the experience of many Native American people today.


In the Light of Reverence

Devils Tower. The Four Corners. Mount Shasta. All places of extraordinary beauty — and impassioned controversy — as Indians and non-Indians struggle to co-exist with very different ideas about how the land should be used. For Native Americans, the land is sacred and akin to the world's greatest cathedrals. For others, the land should be used for industry and recreation. In the Light of Reverence is a beautifully rendered account of the struggles of the Lakota in the Black Hills, the Hopi in Arizona and the Wintu in California to protect their sacred sites.


In a rural east-coast trailer park, two-spirit teenager Link lives with his toxic father and younger half-brother. When Link discovers his Mi’kmaw mother could still be alive, it lights a flame and Link and his brother make a run for a better life. As they journey together across Mi’kma’ki, Link finds community, identity and love in the land where he belongs.

Skins (2002)

Rudy Yellowshirt is an investigator with the police department and witnesses firsthand the painful legacy of Indian existence. Now faced with the discovery of a bloodied body, a flaming liquor store just off native land that sells millions of cans of beer a year to the native population, and his brother's ongoing self-destruction, Rudy goes on a quest to avenge himself, his family, and his culture and to seek justice.

Reel Injun

Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond takes a look at the Hollywood Indian, exploring the portrayal of North American Natives through a century of cinema. Traveling through the heartland of America, and into the Canadian North, Diamond looks at how the myth of “the Injun” has influenced the world’s understanding — and misunderstanding — of Natives. Reel Injun traces the evolution of cinema’s depiction of Native people from the silent film era to today, with clips from hundreds of classic and recent Hollywood movies, and candid interviews with celebrated Native and non-Native film celebrities, activists, film critics, and historians.

Smoke Signals

This film is adapted from Sherman Alexie’s short story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, which is included in this month’s Featured Books display in Van Pelt Library. Arnold rescued Thomas from a fire when he was a child. Thomas thinks of Arnold as a hero, while Arnold's son Victor resents his father's alcoholism, violence and abandonment of his family. Uneasy rivals and friends, Thomas and Victor spend their days killing time on a Coeur d'Alene reservation in Idaho and arguing about their cultural identities. When Arnold dies, the duo set out on a cross-country journey to Phoenix to retrieve Arnold's ashes.