Five Books About Native Americans by Authors Who Aren't

"Every time I venture into a bookstore, I find another book about Indians. There are hundreds of books about Indians published every year, yet so few are written by Indians," writes award-winning poet, author and filmmaker Sherman Alexie (Spokane/Coeur d'Alene) in his poem "The Unauthorized Autobiography of Me." "A book written by a non-Indian who identifies as mixed-blood will sell more copies than a book written by a person who identifies as strictly Indian," he claims, which perhaps helps explain bogus memoirs such as Love and Consequences by Margaret B. Jones and The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams by the "Navahoax" Nasdijj.

A wise reader of Native American literature learns to be discerning. Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma), Vine Deloria Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux), N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa), Linda Hogan (Chickasaw), and Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain
Ojibwe) are a few of the distinguished native voices. Read on, though, for a list of books on Indians by non-Indians, and what Native Americans think of them. And then tell us who your favorite indigenous authors are.

1. "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" by Dee Brown. "The epic tragedy which Dee Brown described so vividly and thoroughly in his iconic history . . . As students in the early 1970s, members of my generation of American Indians carried paperback copies in our backpacks as talismans of hope," says Hanay Geiogamah, director, UCLA American Indian Studies Center, on a NativeWeb blog.


2. "Thirteen Moons" by Charles Frazier. "To me it is a fictional account of Cherokee history, including the Trail of Tears ... that will possibly be read by thousands, if not millions, [that] some of these readers will no doubt believe to be historical fact," laments MariJo Moore (Cherokee) in her essay in Sovereign Bones: New Native American Writing (Eric Gansworth, editor).

3. "On the Rez" by Ian Frazier. "Indians' relationship to this country is still that of the colonized, so that when non-Indians write about us, it's colonial literature. . . . What really bothered me about Ian Frazier's book is how everybody kept talking about it as some sort of special work, and it's not. It's a really ordinary book. There are flagrant inaccuracies. The galley had at least fifty historical errors. And I really had a problem with the point of view," says Sherman Alexie in an interview on theatlantic.com.

4. "The Indian in the Cupboard" by Lynne Reid Banks. "Although the little 'Indian' is called Iroquois, no attempt has been made, either in text or illustrations, to have him look or behave appropriately. For example, he is dressed as a Plains Indian, and is given a tipi and a horse," complains Doris Seale in Through Indian Eyes.

5. "Little House on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder. "I would not want my child to read [it]. I would shield him from the slights she slings upon his ancestors. They appear in her book only as beggars and thieves, and she adds injury to insult by comparing the Osages . . . to reptiles, to garbage or scum," says Dennis McAuliffe, Jr., on oyate.org's list of books to avoid.

What American Indian writers would you want your children to read?

-- Mary Morris

By Christian Pelusi |  March 13, 2008; 12:55 PM ET Mary Morris
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Currently enjoying David Treuer's "The Translation of Dr Apelles."

Would love to know how "Apelles" is pronounced, if anyone knows!

I was enchanted by "Hundred in the Hand" by Joseph M. Marshall, III, which David Treuer reviewed for Book World.

Posted by: mary morris | March 13, 2008 5:49 PM

I've been trying for years now to get my three books published and finally turned to self publishing by Trafford Publishing.
Its very difficult for American Indian Authors to get published simply because we do ask those who have published i.e. I asked Vine Deloria to read my work but he never did, I asked Sherman Alexie to read my work and he never did, and there are others.
It seems my work is authentic and they can't handle that...I gave Joe Marshall one of my books to read and he never did respond...although our teachings by our Grandparents were exactly the same but taught to us in a different manner.
So in short. I don't know why I am even bothering to respond to this!
But thanks anyway...if you really want to you can Google me.

Posted by: John Luke Flyinghorse Sr. aka Eya Mani | March 13, 2008 10:40 PM

Mary,

You could also examine the whys of other non-Indian writers who fictionalized their involvement with Indians. Carlos Casteneda was awarded a PhD from the Anthro Dept at UCLA for his fiction about a relationship with a Yaqui Shaman. His series was completely made up. Also, Lynn Andrews and her series, fiction accepted as fact. Brooke Medicine Eagle, Jamake Highwater, etc ad nauseum. Dark Rain Thom is another one. Lives here in Indiana and when she was outed some years ago as a fake, claiming membership in the Remnant Band Shawnee which is rife with accusations of pedophilia, she switched to "over the river and through the woods Shawnee." It is not the fault of Indians. Like Alexie says, we know, Indians know who is and who is not. But no one asks us.

As for the good books? Soul of the Indian by Charles Eastman. The way to Rainy Mountain by Scott Momaday. Tracks by Louise Erdrich. Storyteller by Leslie Silko.

Thanks for asking these questions.

Posted by: Johnnie | March 14, 2008 10:18 AM

Hello John Luke Flying Horse, Sr., thank you very much for your comment. I'm not an author or a publisher so I can't give you a professional opinion, but if I might pass on some advice to me by former deputy Book World editor Jabari Asim about how to get published, he suggested looking in the acknowledgements of books similar to the one you are trying to get published and see if you can figure out who the authors' agents are, then contact those agents and ask them to read your manuscript.

Have you tried that? He said to go to a bookstore and look for books like the one you've written.

I'll ask the Book World editors about your question and see if I can get one of them to respond to your comment. Most are out of the office today but hopefully within the next few days one of them will be able to reply.

Did you try any university presses?

As soon as I get a chance I will Google you. :)

Thank you again for your comment.

Sincerely,
Mary

Posted by: mary morris | March 14, 2008 1:40 PM

Dear Johnnie, thank you so much for your very informative comments. Some of what you've told me amazes and hurts my brain!

You said

"Like Alexie says, we know, Indians know who is and who is not. But no one asks us."

I sincerely hope your speaking up here (and hopefully elsewhere!) will help to correct that situation.

Thank you so much for your reading recommendations. I was really hoping for exactly what you've given me - books and authors I should be seeking. Thank you for illuminating my path!

Sincerely,
Mary


Posted by: mary morris | March 14, 2008 1:56 PM

Two wonderful anthologies of Native voices I've found are:

GROWING UP NATIVE AMERICAN: Stories of oppression and survival, of heritage denied and reclaimed - 22 American writers recall childhood in their native land; Patricia Riley, editor (William Morrow, 1993)

(includes Black Elk, Louise Erdrich, N. Scott Momaday, Linda Hogan, Michael Dorris...)

(*Loved* "The Ballad of Plastic Fred" by Eric L. Gansworth.)

SOVEREIGN BONES: New Native American Writing; Eric Gansworth, editor (Nation Books, 2007)

Would appreciate recommendations for more!


Posted by: mary morris | March 14, 2008 2:03 PM

Feedback you want try the germans who loved stories about an apache chief, hitler himself loved the stories of the "savages". Thus my view like buzzards the whiteman came with the "progress and religion, and diease and killed more Indians than the germans killed Jews. Point like vultures that are driven by MONEY. and the fact of the matter is that all the talking aint going to change, the euro view of how "quaint" other savage cultures are and a buck can be made even on the misfortunes of others whose only fault was to trust the EURO.

Posted by: Naiche | March 14, 2008 4:25 PM

Indian voices are amongst the finest working in words today. James Welch's Fools Crow to name one of his many fine works. Momaday's Ancient Child, again one great amongst many. Skins by Adrian C. Louis. Silko's Ceremony. Louise Erdrich, Linda Hogan, Louis Owens, Gerald Vizenor, Thomas King and, of course, Sherman Alexie to name just a few of the many great Native storytellers working in prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction. The list grows everyday.

Posted by: Michael Bartley | March 14, 2008 5:32 PM

Mary, I've tried most of the University Presses that publish Indian books. I've read that Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" was rejected over 50 times so I haven't given up just yet.
If you would email me I can have my unpublished book sent to you.
tipimakr@westriv.com
You know more people in the business than I have experience, I couldn't even attract an Agent!
Thanks,
John Luke

Posted by: John Luke | March 16, 2008 2:54 PM

RE:

"Its very difficult for American Indian Authors to get published simply because we do ask those who have published i.e. I asked Vine Deloria to read my work but he never did, I asked Sherman Alexie to read my work and he never did, and there are others."

Sounds like sour grapes, frankly. If someone honestly thinks the only thing stopping them from getting published is having another author read and champion their work, then they're in no way ready to publish. Period.

Posted by: Mari Anton | March 17, 2008 4:30 PM

Fine authentic autobiographies edited by non-Indians should include those such as: Fools Crow, Agnes Yellowtain Deernose, Mountain Wolf Woman, Sun Chief, Anna Mae Aquash and Mary Brave Bird. In this sense, are they not "writers"?

Posted by: shw | April 11, 2008 10:03 AM

Apologies for my absence. Was away one week of vacation and swamped since I got back. Much appreciation for the replies. I will try to respond this week.

Meanwhile wanted to post a link to author David Treuer's essay on Native tongues, "If They're Lost, Who Are We?" that appeared in the Sunday, April 6, OUTLOOK section of The Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/04/AR2008040403216.html

Posted by: mary morris | April 14, 2008 8:47 PM

I just came across this blog. Thought I would add the author William Least Heat Moon. While he doesn't write about the Native American experience specifically, his books Blue Highways and River Horse offered a unique perspective on 20th century America.

Posted by: Erin | April 22, 2008 2:44 PM

Just found this blog too; don't know if anyone would ever see this comment, but wanted to add Tony Hillerman to the list. His mysteries set on the Navaho reservation are groundbreaking, vivid, and a sympathetic yet realistic portrayal of the Navaho people. I think he has been made an honorary member of the tribe.

Posted by: Sappho | April 25, 2008 9:40 AM

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