If you're looking for a better understanding of Native American history, here you will find 26 great books that can offer you an in-depth perspective.
These titles will provide you with information about the indigenous cultures and histories that have been largely ignored in mainstream education. Some also into depth about their struggles and triumphs since much of their territory was taken over by the Federal Government.
From personal narratives to historical accounts, these books promise to give you a more complete view of North American history.
Written by: Dee Brown
Published: 1970 (Updated in 2001)
In Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of American West, Dee Brown delves into everything from the Battle of Little Bighorn to the massacre at Wounded Knee. Brown provides an enlightening and heartbreaking account of the struggles and perseverance of indigenous peoples in North America.
Drawing from firsthand accounts and historical records, he paints a moving picture of displacement, poverty, and violence suffered by Native Americans in their land. Most people think that it was the miners and ranchers, but the U.S. government and military often broke treaty after treaty. It is a heartbreaking and tear-inducing read but an essential account of one people's struggle for justice. It is as relevant today as it was written so many decades ago.
Written by: John G. Neihardt & Black Elk
In Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux, John Neihardt tells the story of Black Elk, a revered holy man of the Oglala Sioux Nation. Neihardt was fortunate enough to have been personally invited by Black Elk to document his life story, and the result is an inspiring account of one man's journey from boyhood to old age. This captivating autobiography sheds light on religious ceremonies and beliefs, as well as traditional ways of life.
Drawing on his deep knowledge and understanding of Native American culture, Neihardt provides a unique perspective on Black Elk's spiritual path and the customs and beliefs that inform it. As readers follow Black Elk's journey, they are drawn into a world where spirituality and nature are inextricably intertwined, and everything is connected in often-overlooked ways.
Written by: Mary Crow Dog
When Mary Crow Dog was born into a difficult life from the beginning, her father didn't seem to care, and her grandparents raised her. She lived on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where she experienced poverty, racism, and traditional gender roles. Growing up having her culture repressed by white people living near the reservation, she began drinking and getting in with the wrong crowd. However, in 1980, she escaped from her abusive marriage and began working with the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) to protect the rights of Native Americans.
Her memoir, Lakota Woman, chronicled her story, which provides an insightful look into life on a reservation in the early twentieth century. Crow Dog's experiences shed light on the complex history of Native Americans in the United States and offer a unique perspective on modern-day tribal life.
Written by: Peter Matthiessen Martin Garbus (Afterword)
Leonard Peltier is a name that is not often heard in the mainstream media, but his story should be told. In 1975, two F.B.I. agents were fatally shot on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) was immediately suspected of carrying out the murders, and Leonard Peltier—a member of A.I.M.—was named a suspect.
He was then convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. For the next 40 years, Peltier has been fighting to clear his name and prove his innocence. Despite significant evidence questioning the F.B.I.'s case against Peltier, he has remained in prison. This is the story of Leonard Peltier and the F.B.I.'s war on the American Indian Movement.
Written by: Joy Harjo
If there is one word to describe Joy Harjo's memoir Crazy Brave, it would be "brave." This lyrical and poetic book takes the reader on a journey through her life, from her difficult childhood to being named poet laureate of the United States. It is a story of hardship and resilience, of pain and healing. But most of all, it is a story about finding your voice and using it to tell your truth.
Harjo's writing is powerful and moving, and she has a gift for turning ordinary moments into something special. Whether you are familiar with her work or not and enjoy poetry or not, we highly recommend picking up Crazy Brave. You won't regret it.
Written by: Edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz
Few people are aware of the rich tapestry of myths and legends that exist within Native American cultures. Countless stories have been passed down for generations, telling of gods, giants, and heroes. These tales often contain moral lessons, teaching about the importance of family, respect for nature, and other essential values. There is so much to learn and understand with over 160 stories from more than eighty tribes. It is amazing.
In American Indian Myths and Legends, two renowned scholars survey this vast body of folklore, providing an in-depth examination of its various themes and motifs. Drawing on a wide range of sources, from traditional oral narratives to contemporary works by Native American authors, they offer a unique perspective on this fascinating aspect of American culture.
Written by: Nathaniel Philbrick
The Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand, was a turning point in U.S. history. On June 25th, 1876, General George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry were wiped out by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors under the command of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Drawing on historical sources and personal interviews with descendants of the battle's participants, he brings to life the people and events that led to Custer's infamous defeat.
The reader is given an intimate look at the thoughts and motivations of both Custer and Sitting Bull and insights into the strategies and tactics employed by both sides. The result is a fascinating and highly readable account of this landmark event in American history.
Written by: John Ehle
The Trail of Tears was one of the most devastating moments in American history. It marked the forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation from their homeland in Georgia to what is now Oklahoma. This tragic event has been called "a death march to disaster" and left thousands of Cherokee families shattered. In his book, Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation, John Ehle tells the story of this epic tragedy.
Ehle provides a detailed account of the Cherokee Nation's history and culture and white settlement in the Southeast and U.S. government policy toward Native Americans. Drawing on extensive research, he provides a detailed account of every step in the process that led to the displacement of the Cherokee people. He also shows how they fought back against their oppressors and refused to give up their culture and traditions.
Written by: Thomas King
When most people think of Native Americans, they think of the movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or the book The Lone Ranger" They picture stoic people with long hair and feathers in their hair. They might even think of casinos and reservations. However, author Thomas King takes an exciting and insightful look at indigenous people's history and modern-day realities in Canada and the United States.
Drawing on everything from personal stories to historical research, King offers a thought-provoking perspective on topics such as treaties, residential schools, and cultural appropriation. Whether you're already familiar with indigenous issues or are just starting to learn about them, this book is sure to provoke discussion and reflection.
Written by: Bob Drury, Tom Clavin
Few people know the story of Red Cloud, one of the most successful and celebrated Native American leaders in United States history. Most know about Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, but Red Cloud's story has been largely untold. That is until now. In their book, The Untold Story of Red Cloud, authors Bob Drury and Tom Clavin tell the story of this remarkable man, from his humble beginnings to his years as an influential leader.
Most don't realize this, but Red Cloud was the leader of the Oglala Lakota Sioux and was one the only Native leader to cause the U.S. government to ask for peace. And just as amazingly, at one time, his nation covered over one-fifth of the entire United States of America. This book is an essential addition to American history, and it offers much-needed insight into the often-misunderstood world of Native Americans.
Written by: Russell Means, Marvin J. Wolf
This insightful and engaging autobiography provides a unique perspective on the Crow Creek Sioux Nation and its struggle for sovereignty. Drawing from his personal experiences, Means offers readers an insider’s view of the people and events that have shaped modern Native American history. Irreverent, humorous, and brutally honest, Means never shies away from controversy.
In this book, Means tells his story of activism and resistance against discrimination and poverty suffered by Native Americans. He offers an insightful look at the history and culture of indigenous peoples in America, as well as their ongoing struggle for justice.
Written by: Joseph M. Marshall III
When most people think of the Lakota, they likely imagine Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse leading the charge at Little Bighorn. But few know the story of Crazy Horse himself—the man who dedicated his life to fighting for his people's independence. In this book, Joseph Marshall III tells Crazy Horse's remarkable story in full, from his birth on a Dakota reservation in 1842 to his death at the hands of U.S. soldiers in 1877.
This is more than just a biography; it is a chronicle of one man's fierce determination to preserve his culture and keep alive the spirit of the Lakota nation. Marshall is a descendant of the Lakota tribe and, therefore, not just an outside historian.
Written by: Leonard Peltier
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many Native American communities were rallying for better conditions and rights. Leonard Peltier was part of this movement, fighting for his people as an activist and member of the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.). He is now serving a life sentence in prison for a crime he asserts he did not commit.
This autobiography offers an inside look at his life and the events that led to his imprisonment. The book includes chilling firsthand accounts of violence against A.I.M. members by law enforcement and his continued involvement for equality. The letters that he has written from his time in jail, and his drive to justice, make this a must-read.
Written by: Vine Deloria Jr.
Initially published in 1969, Native American author Vine Deloria Jr.’s book quickly became a landmark text in the fields of anthropology, history, and Native American studies. In this powerful and provocative book, Deloria attacks what he calls "the white man's religion," arguing that Christianity has been used as a tool to discredit and destroy traditional Native American cultures.
He also makes a forceful case for the importance of Indigenous rights and sovereignty. Many of Deloria's arguments remain just as relevant today as they were fifty years ago, making Custer Died for Your Sins an essential read for anyone interested in understanding the history and culture of Indigenous peoples in North America.
Written by: Vine Deloria Jr., Leslie Marmon Silko
For centuries, the relationship between religion and Native Americans has been complicated. In their book, God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, Vine Deloria Jr. and the highly respected Leslie Marmon Silko explore this topic in-depth, offering a unique perspective on religious belief within the Native American community.
Whether you are interested in learning more about Indian religious practices or simply looking for a different perspective on faith, this book is sure to fascinate you. Drawing on traditional stories and rituals and their own personal experiences, the authors provide an enlightening look at the role of religion in Native American culture. The comparisons between Christianity and Native Peoples' religions are illuminating.
Written by: Kent Nerburn
In this beautiful travelogue, Kent Nerburn was accompanied by an Indian elder on a journey through the reservations of Northern Minnesota. The elder, who went by the name Dan, shared traditional stories and teachings that offered insights into Native American culture and the history of the land. Along forgotten roads and through remote villages, they explored the meaning of life and what it means to be an American.
As they travel, Dan offers Nerburn a unique perspective on contemporary issues confronting Native Americans and reflects on how his people have been affected by centuries of persecution and neglect. This unforgettable journey is a moving meditation on identity, culture, and spirituality.
Written by: Bear Heart and Molly Larkin
Bear Heart is often regarded as the last of the Native shamans in the U.S.A. This incredible book explains what it is like to live as a shaman and a person. It starts with the abuse that so many native people have dealt with through the centuries, including the Trail of Tears. Instead of focusing on the past, Larkin delves into his wisdom, his love of the native spirit, and there is so much to learn about humanity in it that you will want to read it more than once.
Some of the viewpoints you will get in this book include forgiveness, compassion, respect for nature and the environment, and how we have gone down a path that often ignores all of those because of greed. Being that Bear Heart has dealt with horrible losses, it just increases his willingness to look beyond himself and care for others and inform people why we need to return to our roots and embrace each other.
Written by: S.C. Gwynne
S.C. Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon is the riveting and definitive history of the Comanches, one of the most powerful Native American nations ever to exist. Drawing on decades of research and personal interviews, Gwynne tells the story of the Comanches with power and passion, recounting their stunning rise from humble beginnings as a small tribe in East Texas to become the dominant force on the vast Great Plains.
The Comanches were feared by neighboring settlers and warriors alike for their expert horsemanship and deadly warfare skills. Still, they were also highly respected for their rich culture and deep spiritual beliefs. Fiercely independent, they never capitulated to white authority or abandoned their traditional way of life, even when their very survival was threatened.
Written by: Hampton Sides
In the annals of American history, few names are as revered as Kit Carson. A legendary frontiersman and Indian fighter, Carson blazed a trail across the American West, helping to open it up for settlement. His exploits were immortalized in dime novels and Hollywood Westerns, and his name has become synonymous with toughness and determination.
This riveting book tells the whole story of Kit Carson's life and times - from his early days as an illiterate mountain man to his role in the conquests of New Mexico and California. Featuring dramatic battle scenes and portraits of colorful characters like John Fremont and "Buffalo" Bill Cody, Blood and Thunder is a page-turner that brings to life one of the most exciting periods in American history.
Written by: Scott Zesch
One of the most intriguing books on this list, The Captured, focuses on the ten-year-old Adolph Korn. Initially captured by a group of Apaches on a raiding party, they traded him to the Comanche. After just three short years, he became one of their mightiest fighters and a leader at the age of thirteen. However, he was found, and his original family took him back. But he never truly felt at home in white society and ended up living the final years of his life in a cave.
The author is the great-great-great-nephew of Korn and wanted to find out how someone, in such a short time, could be almost wholly changed regarding religion, customs, and life overall. He delves into everything possible, including interviews, documents, and even following the stories of other abducted children and how they ended up living out their lives. It is unique and almost too unbelievable to be an actual non-fiction book.
Written by: David Treuer
Wounded Knee is more than just a massacre. It is the symbol of the destruction of a people and their culture. David Treuer's book The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee offers a fresh perspective on American history, giving voice to the Native American experience from 1890 to the present. Through personal stories and meticulous research, Treuer reveals the heart and soul of Native America, showing how they have persevered in the face of genocide and cultural collapse.
Drawing on oral histories and personal narratives, Treuer examines how Native Americans have responded to centuries of mistreatment, waged battles for self-determination, and tried to preserve their traditions in the face of overwhelming obstacles. The author was born and raised on the Ojibwe reservation, became an anthropologist, and then started researching native life and found it very different from how it is often portrayed in other books and the media.
Written by: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
The topic of Indigenous Peoples' history is often overlooked in favor of the version of America's history told from a European perspective. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, however, offers a unique and much-needed perspective through her thorough research and powerful storytelling.
Dunbar-Ortiz paints a clear picture of the indigenous experience in America, highlighting the many ways that indigenous people have been marginalized and oppressed throughout history. Instead of the usual narrative, she explores how the removal of native people was used to satisfy the southern states and allow them to expand slavery. This powerful book shows how indigenous people have long resisted colonization and demanded justice - not just on their behalf but also on all Americans.
Written by: David Grann
This book is a shocking and gripping account of power, greed, and betrayal in 1920s Oklahoma. After discovering oil beneath their land, the Osage Nation had become incredibly wealthy, only to see many of their members mysteriously murdered when someone decided to take advantage of them. Since the local police didn't seem to care, and the others who tried to investigate the crimes were then murdered, the newly formed F.B.I. was brought in to figure out what was happening to the tribe members.
What makes Grann's story so compelling is his exhaustive research combined with his skill as a storyteller - the book reads like a murder mystery but is based on actual events. Anyone interested in American history or true crime will find much to love in Killers of the Flower Moon.
Written by: Teresa Marie Mailhot
Mailhot's memoir is a searing and poetic exploration of memory, trauma, and love. It tells the story of her coming-of-age on an Indian reservation in the Pacific Northwest and her battle with mental illness. In frank and beautiful prose, Heart Berries articulates what it means to be a native woman today—to grapple with constant contradictions—and captures her effort to forge a path beyond victimhood.
As a young woman with bipolar disorder and PTSD, she is hospitalized and then given a notebook to work through her past and extensive abuse and traumas. This candid, poetic book paints a portrait of her life on Seabird Island, off the coast of British Columbia, and her journey to mental health recovery. It is an honest account of her relationships with family, friends, and lovers, the abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of those she trusted most, and her path to self-acceptance.
Written by: Alicia Elliott
This book is almost impossible to describe in a few paragraphs. The author was born into a family with a mother who had severe mental illness, the father abusive and utter poverty. She and her siblings had no idea what each day would hold and how to survive. As she grew into adulthood, dealing with these issues and so many more, she started to look at her life and figure out how to survive.
Because her life had been so horrific, she started to think about suicide and wrote a letter to explain her actions when only sixteen years old. Thankfully she became so exhausted that she couldn't continue and finish the act. Because of all the horrors done to her tribe, the Haudenosaunee people, she decided she would fight and make a difference instead of giving in. This book, which shows her drive and power, is the outcome of that. It will truly inspire you, and you will want to reach out and help others after reading it. Each essay is a masterpiece.
Written by: Don C. Talayesva, Robert V. Hine, and Leo W. Simmons
Don Talayesva's Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian is an autobiographical account of the author's life as a member of the Hopi tribe. Originally written in the early 1920s, when Talayesva was imprisoned for practicing his traditional religion, the book tells the story of Talayesva's coming-of-age and his struggles to preserve his culture and way of life in the face of government assimilation policies. Being that he was born on Hopi and then sent away to be schooled and converted to Catholicism before returning in his 20s, he saw the contradiction between the native way of life and the white man’s one.
In addition to being a powerful personal narrative, it provides a unique perspective on Native American history and culture. It is an essential work for historians and anthropologists, and anyone interested in learning more about indigenous cultures worldwide.