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Sunday, June 7, 2020

Anti-Racism: Including the Indigenous First Nations Perspective

By Claudia A. Fox Tree
Sketch by Claudia A. Fox Tree

Thanks for asking about anti-racist books related to Native Americans. Unlike other oppressed peoples, many books about Indigenous people are not written by Indigenous people. In addition, many professors in "Indigenous" study departments at colleges and universities, those who write academic books, are also not Indigenous. Can you even imagine a Black studies department without a Black professor? Or Jewish studies without a Semitic professor? By Indigenous, I mean, Native American, American Indian, and First Nations of North and South America (though I prefer talking about specific people and their specific tribal nations). I will say that I am more familiar with North American resources. I have picked important topics instead of specific nation stories (though some of those are in the mix, too). There are many, many more books, if/when you want to learn about a specific tribal group.

Indigenous people who write tend to tell stories and don't always "spell it out," so the reader has to do some work, which is made more difficult because most people have very little understanding of Indigenous history and culture, so EVERYTHING seems to be new learning, and that’s a lot to process. To understand “storytelling,” I recommend reading Thomas King or Lori Alvord.

There is no "perfect resource" - not a book, person, documentary, nothing. You have to have many experiences and resources in order to understand nuances and specifics about anything, but when you go from no knowledge to some knowledge to really wanting to educate yourself, I feel it is important to remind people that this is WORK! You will need to unlearn and dismantle most of what you "learned" and think you know about this country's history and its original people. Plus, books are not written as anti-racist this and anti-racist that. You need to understand history, in order to understand culture, and so that you can even somewhat interpret what is happening now. Period. Sometimes, you'll learn about one or three specific tribal nations, and sometimes it will be general (many nations) across "Indian Country."

Indigenous People will sometimes write/ understand the same things differently. This is obvious in the "real world," however, when there is so little accurate information out there, it is more challenging because most people are only reading/ viewing one or two voices/ resources about Indigenous people. Just remember the Indigenous people are speaking from their own research and experiences. Even this list is informed by the questions I am asked, the places I've traveled and lived, and feedback from others who read the books I recommend.

Here's some places to start with categories I think are important, moving from my "read first" suggestion down within each category. I have read/ viewed/ listened to all these, so it is a "curated list" of my favorites, resources that informed my own thinking, and those by Indigenous authors. Of course there are many more resources, but as you can imagine, it is hard to get emotional energy to dig into a new book when much of the history is so traumatizing and triggering for me. (I also have a do not read list which includes 1493 by Charles C. Mann and Gun, Germs, Steel by Jared Diamond - which are my litmus test for racism - "if you recommend then, then you haven't done enough work").

Also, I didn't include specific resources on identity, though it is embedded throughout. That's "next level work." However, I want to remind folks that many Indigenous stories are mixed with other racial/ oppressed groups: Black (New England, Southeast, Caribbean); Asian (West Coast, Hawaii); Latinx (Southwest, South America); and more. After all, we have been intermarrying and creating community together for 500 years.


  • ** An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
  • ** “All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville Confederated Tribes) 
  • ** The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez (Mexican)
  • ** A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolomé de las Casas – more books about 1492 here on my blog
  • ** The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative by Thomas King (Cherokee) – though all his books are great
  • American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World by David E. Stannard
  • The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens
  • 1491 by Charles C. Mann – but NOT his second book, 1493
  • The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer

  • ** Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Potawatomi)
  • ** Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford
  • * *The Scalpel and the Silver Bear: The First Navajo Woman Surgeon Combines Western Medicine and Traditional Healing by Lori Alvord (Diné) and Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt
  • Extraordinary American Indians by Susan Avery and Linda Skinner

Resistance (environmentalism, protest, food sovereignty, etc.)
  • ** As Long as The Grass Grows by Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville Confederated Tribes)
  • Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States: Restoring Cultural Knowledge, Protecting Environments, and Regaining Health by Elizabeth Hoover (Mohawk/ Mi’kmaq)
  • This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving by David J. Silverman – more book about Thanksgiving here on my blog


News Sources


  • ** All My Relations with Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip) and Adrienne Keene (Cherokee Nation)
  • Uprooted: 1950s plan to erase Indian Country Podcast About the genocidal Indian relocation and termination policies of the US government in the 1950s and 60s. At the time, "blackness" was defined by the "one-drop rule," but "Indianness" could be washed away in just a few generations through intermarriage with whites. More black Americans meant more workers to exploit. Fewer Native Americans meant more land to take.
  • Growing up Indigenous when u don't look it (20 min)
  • Here are more First Nations and First Nation Women podcasts, but I don't listen to them all

  • Bitterroot by Abena Songbird (Abnaki)
  • Durable Breath: Contemporary Native American Poetry by John E. Smelcer (Alaskan Native/ Ahtna) & D. L. Birchfield (Chocktaw), Eds.
  • No Parole Today by Laura Tohe (Diné/ Navajo)
  • Rainbow Dancer by Heather Harris (Metic/ Cree)
  • Columbus Day by Jimmie Durham (Cherokee)
  • Sculpted Stones by Victor Montejo (Maya)

Articles (think of these as focusing on white privilege or non-native privilege and cultural appropriation)

Children's Picture Books
  • We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom (Anishinaabe/ Métis) and Michaela Goade (Tlingit/ Haida)
  • Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard (Seminole) and Juana Martinez-Neal (Peruvian)
  • Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back: A Native American Year of Moons by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) - he has many, many books
  • Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp (Mohawk)
  • The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter (not Native)
  • Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee - Creek)
  • Pow Wow by Linda Coombs (Wampanoag)

Novels and Young Adult
  • There, There by Tommy Orange (Cheyenne/ Arapaho)
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
  • Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
  • Soaring Spirits: Conversations with Native American Teens by Karen Gravelle (not Native)
  • The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa)
  • Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown (Dorris Alexander "Dee" Brown)

Films, Movies, Documentaries
  • ** Dawnland
  • Native America (PBS 2018) Native America in the Classroom – Lessons with clips from film
  • Smoke Signals (Indigenous actors, producers, directors) – two young Idaho men with radically different memories of Arnold Joseph, who has just died, road trip to retrieve Arnold's ashes
  • Edge of America – New teacher is asked to coached female basketball team on a reservation)
  • The Fast Runner – Two brothers challenge the evil order: Amaqjuaq, the Strong One, and Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner. Atanarjuat escapes running naked over the spring sea ice
  • Leonard Peltier (90 min, 1970s)
  • Trudell – Movie about this activist
  • Crooked Arrows (a little campy, but great conversation starter, Indigenous actors) – About the origins of lacrosse, filmed in Massachusetts



TED Talks, Short Films, etc.

Music/ Songs: a mix of songs in indigenous tongue, English, and vocables (the importance of Indigenous languages):
  • AIM Unity Song 
  • Wishi Ta and other songs by Brooke Medicine Eagle.
  • Sharon Burch has several YouTube videos. I love “Colors of My Heart”
  • Crystal Woman is also great, and Who Will Speak is one of my all time favorite Indigenous songs
  • Indanee by Pat Humphries is beautiful
  • Here is a good, simple song for Columbus Day
  • Prayer Loop Song by Supaman shows Hip Hop sound “layering” 
  • Why also has a Jingle Dress Dancer
  • Stand Up is about DAPL
  • Blackbird by The Beatles sung in Mi'kmaq by Emma Stevens
  • The Climb by Miley Cyrus sung in Mi'kmaq by 10 year old Kalolin Johnson
  • Gentle Warrior (featuring Devon Paul and Thunder Herney) by an older Kalolin Johnson

For Educators: These are books more directed at people who are teaching and looking for curriculum

Some of these overlap with the list I have elsewhere on my blog

Allies to First Nations can do the following:

  1. Get into the habit of making tribal land and nation acknowledgements.
  2. Listen to Indigenous voices.
    • Talk to elders in the community.
    • When working with First Nations Indigenous People (and other marginalized groups), “yield the floor.”
  3. Integrate history and culture into curriculum and/or daily lives (or conversations around specific holidays/ observances).
  4. Read books by Indigenous authors. Do your research.
    • Learn about real role models and Indigenous contributions.
    • Learn about Inequalities that still exist and that resistance is ongoing.
    • Learn the real history of Indigenous People.
  5. Attend Indigenous events (even virtually).
  6. Join organizations – Support organizations advocating for Native American communities.
  7. Donate to Indigenous organizations, legal defense funds, etc. (even small financial contributions go a long way).
  8. Follow Indigenous groups on Facebook.
  9. Become aware of stereotypes and campaign (or at least talk) about dismantling them.
  10. Consume media and art created by Indigenous People.
  11. Advocate for a more inclusive, truthful school curriculum.
    • If you are connected to a school, advocate.
    • If you are connected to media sources, educate.
    • If you have political access, speak up.
  12. Take care of the environment – Beyond recycle, reuse, reduce, and compost, build a reciprocal relationship with the earth’s beings.
  13. Share what you learn – Bring your community, students and family along on your journey.