Over the past several years, states and cities across the United States have been adopting Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in some cases making a point to celebrate it instead of Columbus Day on the same day. (Hundreds of people gathered on New York City’s Randalls Island Sunday and Monday, although the city hasn’t formally designated it as a replacement for Columbus Day.)
We got in touch with the author Tommy Orange, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, who won several literary awards and was named a Pulitzer finalist for his 2018 debut novel, “There There.” He recommended three of his favorite books — a novel, a nonfiction book and a book of poetry — by Native writers.
‘The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present,’ by David Treuer
Orange called this book “a sweeping, brilliant, and thorough history of Native America.” A finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction this year, it is meant to counter the widespread narrative that Native American culture was destroyed in the 1800s. “This book would focus on the untold story of the past 128 years, making visible the broader and deeper currents of Indian life that have too long been obscured,” Treuer, a member of the Ojibwe Tribe from Minnesota, wrote.
‘Empire of Wild,’ by Cherie Dimaline
On the surface, this novel tells the story of a woman named Joan who encounters her husband after a yearlong disappearance, only to find that he has no memory of his former self and is now a pastor on a mission to turn people toward Jesus. But the book also has political undertones, and is based on the Canadian-Indigenous Métis legend of the rougarou, a werewolf-like creature. It is “wildly entertaining and profound and essential,” Orange said.
‘Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers,’ by Jake Skeets
This queer coming-of-age story is told in verse and centers on Navajo culture. “By turns elegiac and erotic, the collection is also lush with language whose music evokes the landscape,” wrote our reviewer. Orange called it “as good as any poetry debut I’ve ever read.”