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A bunch of books about Native American Heritage Month.

For centuries, discussions about the first Thanksgiving have been dominated by a simplistic and celebratory version of the story. In picture books and school pageants, television specials and speeches, we see and re-share a narrative about the Puritans of the newly formed Plymouth Colony coming together with the local Wampanoag people to celebrate a plentiful harvest. 

The reality of the relationship between the Puritans and the Wampanoags is much darker, and the event that became known as the first Thanksgiving was more of a political agreement than a celebration. As historian David Silverman notes, “No question about it, Wampanoag leader Ousamequin reached out to the English at Plymouth and wanted an alliance with them. But it’s not because he was innately friendly. It’s because his people have been decimated by an epidemic disease, and Ousamequin sees the English as an opportunity to fend off his tribal rebels. That’s not the stuff of Thanksgiving pageants.” In an interview with Smithsonian magazine, Silverman goes on to explain that the tenuous truce quickly deteriorated, leading to King Philip’s War, England’s violent assault on the region’s indigenous people. 

That’s why, alongside dreaming about turkey, pumpkin pie, and visiting with friends you might not have seen in a very long time, we at the Penn Libraries encourage you to spend time this month learning more about the indigenous people of North America. While it would be impossible to create a reading list that encompasses the history, culture, and contemporary experiences of all 574 federally recognized Native American tribes, we hope that the novels, memoirs, histories, and poetry collections below can serve as a starting point. To check out these books and many more, visit the Featured Books display in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. 

  • Junk by Tommy Pico
    In the third long poem installment in the narrative of Teebs, the hero wades through the detritus of fast food and heartbreak to a soundtrack that careens between punk rock and hip hop.
  • American Indian Stories by Zitkala-S̈a
    A unique mix of memoir, short stories, and poems about the Native American experience.
  • Native American Music in Eastern North America: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture by Beverley Diamond
    An overview of North American Indigenous music, primarily in the Eastern and Northern U.S, as well as of current popular music by Native American artists. Be sure to visit the Eugene Ormandy Music & Media Center, located on the 4th floor of Van Pelt, to listen to the accompanying CD.
  • Little big bully by Heid Erdrich
    In a style of poetry that is wildly new and captivating, Erdich writes from the perspective of Indigenous women.
  • Fritz Scholder: Indian not Indian by Fritz Scholder
    This volume was published for a 2008 exhibit of Scholder’s work at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. It includes numerous color reproductions of vibrant paintings populated by unforgettable faces and figures that alternate between silent contemplation and vivid motion.
  • Savage Kin: Indigenous Informants and American Anthropologists by Margaret M. Brucha
    An exploration of the complicated historical relationships between native informants and anthropologists by anthropology professor and coordinator for the Native American and Indigenous Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania, Margaret M. Bruchac.
  • Prudence: a novel by David Treuer
    On a reservation during World War II, a sudden murder reveals shifting perspectives and unearthed secrets of a torn community.
  • Ethnomusicology of the Flathead Indians by Alan P. Merriam
    Indigenous to Western Montana, the Flathead Indians have a rich cultural history. This book is a result of over 50 years of research covering their music and general culture.
  • We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell
    Vivid, joyful illustrations take the reader through a year of Cherokee seasons and celebrations.
  • Sharing Our Knowledge: the Tlingit and their Coastal Neighbors, edited by Sergei Kan, with Steve Henrikson
    This anthology of writing about Tlingit culture and history features essays about Louis Shotridge, who worked for the Penn Museum. There is also a piece on the Penn Museum's efforts to implement the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act via “potlatch loans.”
  • Heartbeat, Warble, and the Electric Powwow: American Indian Music by Craig Harris
    A wonderful overview of indigenous music, both vocal and instrumental. Be sure to check out the accompanying Spotify playlist and YouTube video!
  • Ghost River: the Rise and Fall of the Conestoga by Lee Francis IV and Weshoyot Alvitre
    A graphic novel depicting the massacre of the inhabitants of Conestoga Indian Town by the so-called Paxton Boys in 1763, written and illustrated by Native American artists and published by the Library Company of Philadelphia.