5 Native Influencers and Authors Who Will Make You More NativeAware®

Breakthrough TV shows like “Reservation Dogs” and “Dark Winds” have put authentic Native American programming within reach of mainstream audiences, while legendary actors like Wes Studi (Cherokee) and Tantoo Cardinal (Cree and Metis) have opened doors for new Native actors. There’s another group of Indigenous influencers to watch today as well: Native American authors.

David Treuer (Ojibwe), an author and professor at the University of Southern California, is best known for stories that defy Native American stereotypes. In “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee,” he explores Native history through the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries; many believe Native history ended with the reservations, but Treuer shows us otherwise through storytelling. He also delves into aspects of Native American history that are overlooked and rarely taught in schools. Treuer also wrote Rez Life, a memoir about life on the reservation, and many other works since 1995.

Another contemporary author is Tommy Orange (Cheyenne and Arapaho), whose novel “There There” explores the lives of Native Americans who live in urban areas – 70% do not live on reservations. In it, he shatters the myth of the stoic Indian commonly portrayed by the iconic Indian head you often see on nickels or post cards. He was looking to set the record straight about this misconception that’s been held for as long as most Americans can remember. He also brings to light Native people surviving a brutal history and thriving in urban life today.

Any recommendation about authentic Native stories must also include these critical works on Native history and stereotypes:

  • Black Elk Speaks” is the real life story of Oglala Holy Man Nicholas Black Elk and the history of the Sioux people, as Black Elk told it to author John G. Neidhardt. The book features a new introduction by historian Philip J. Deloria (Dakota) and annotations of Black Elk’s story by scholar Raymond J. DeMallie (Lakota). It also includes maps and original illustrations by Standing Bear (Ponca).
  • Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto” was a scholarly hallmark of tribal self-determination in 1969. Written by Native activist, author and lawyer Vine Deloria (Standing Rock), it helped draw attention to the Native struggle when the American Indian Movement was gaining momentum. This book brought tremendous attention to Native issues and focused on the need for tribal sovereignty without assimilation. Vine Deloria went on to write more than 20 books challenging stereotypes and misconceptions about Native history, people and tribes.
  • From the Deep Woods to Civilization” by Charles Eastman (Santee Sioux). Having grown up in the Sioux culture and later living in mainstream culture, Dr. Eastman conveys first-hand experience of the good and bad from both cultures, bringing the first to bring a Native viewpoint to American history. A Dartmouth graduate and trained physician, Eastman’s first medical job coincided with the Ghost Dances that culminated in the Wounded Knee Massacre – he was the only doctor on hand to assist the victims. Afterward, he devoted the rest of his life to helping Indians adapt to the White world while retaining the best of their culture.

If becoming more NativeAware® or advocating for Native Americans is one of your goals this year, reading just one of these books will go a long way toward helping you get there.

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