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25 books, films and podcasts about Indigenous histories and cultures
Recommended resources to uncover the “other side” of American history.
What better way to learn about Indigenous histories and culture than through books, films and podcasts straight from Indigenous creators? This list includes some of my personal favorites, as well as critically acclaimed works that aim to educate and enlighten you — all while decolonizing your library.
Books about Indigenous histories
Start the decolonization process with books that retell the history of Indigenous peoples to better understand their identities — from the myths about Christopher Columbus and Thanksgiving to the stereotypes and mascots that permeate modern-day society.
“All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths about Native Americans by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker
Written by Indigenous author Dina Gilio-Whitaker of the Colville Confederated Tribes, and UCLA professor and Indigenous advocate Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, this book repaints Indigenous history in America, from the Columbus narrative to the Washington Redskins name controversy. Together, they unpack popular cultural notions of contemporary Indigenous identities that have evolved in America to more accurately describe the events and struggles that exist for Indigenous citizens today.
Buy All the Real Indians Died Off on Amazon
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen
The latest revised edition of James Loewen’s book starts with the truths about Columbus’s voyages and examines how these historical myths continue to perpetuate ideas about Indigenous identities in the current social climate. Lies My Teacher Told Me is a non-Indigenous account for history teachers and aficionados alike who seek to share the truth about American history.
Buy Lies My Teacher Told Me on Amazon
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
A winner of the 2015 American Book Award, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz presents an accurate historical narrative for young readers that contributes to “unlearning” the typical American history of earlier generations. The book illustrates the history of colonialism and Indigenous communities from an Indigenous viewpoint, complete with maps and graphics of Indigenous art and environmental activism. Callout boxes throughout the margins provide interesting thought starters — perfect for history teachers looking to foster discussions with students.
Buy An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States on Amazon
Books about Indigenous cultures and identity
These nonfiction and fiction titles teach us how closely culture and identity are intertwined, and how these concepts are negotiated within a colonized space.
Playing Indian by Phillip J. Deloria
Non-Indigenous author Phillip Deloria offers a frank discussion on “Indian-ness” and cultural appropriation throughout history in America. He illustrates how dominant misconceptions of what it means to be Indigenous further dispossess and oppress Indigenous peoples in contemporary society.
Buy Playing Indian on Amazon
Being Indigenous: Perspectives on Activism, Culture, Language and Identity by Neyooxet Greymorning
Dive into multiple Indigenous perspectives worldwide to connect universal truths about cultures and identities that exist within colonized spaces over time. Edited by Neyooxet Greymorning, of the Southern Arapaho, this collection of essays allows for multiple voices on the very essence of what it means to be Indigenous in contemporary society. Historical and present analyses provide valuable insight into past traumas and issues, and the lingering impacts these have on 21st-century culture, language and identity.
Buy Being Indigenous on Amazon
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
This graphic novel is a semi-autobiographical account of Spokane-Coeur d’Alene poet and novelist Sherman Alexie’s experiences as a young student voluntarily relocating to a non-Indigenous school off the reservation. It follows the main character, Junior, as he grapples with racism, tragedy and identity while living a life in two different worlds less than 25 miles apart from one another.
The novel delves into stereotypes, oppression and racism with thought-starter questions in the back of the book, making it an excellent supplemental reading to nonfiction works for teens and adults looking to learn about contemporary Indigenous cultures.
Buy The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on Amazon
Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King
Cherokee author Thomas King skillfully weaves contemporary life, history, spirituality, culture and mystical reality into a fictional account of four characters whose stories all converge at a Sun Dance festival in Blackfoot territory.
The narrative is a celebration that merges Indigenous oral storytelling traditions and traditional Western storytelling, as well as Indigenous and European cultures. Green Grass, Running Water offers up numerous learning opportunities about racialization, culture, stereotypes and assumptions to illuminate concepts and ideas from nonfiction works.
Buy Green Grass, Running Water on Amazon
Books about Indigenous spirituality
These titles allow readers to explore what Indigenous spirituality means and its importance to culture.
Whispers of the Ancients: Native Tales for Teaching and Healing in Our Time by Tamarack Song
Strongly rooted in the oral storytelling tradition, Whispers of the Ancients helps readers learn about the histories and identities of Indigenous peoples through the retelling of native tales. Tamarack Song begins with essays to teach readers of all ages the importance of storytelling in shaping our societies, communities and ourselves. And his tales are accompanied by stunning artwork by Anishinaabe artist Moses Amik (Beaver) that help deepen our understanding of what it means to live and be alive.
Buy Whispers of the Ancients on Amazon
The Knowledge Seeker: Embracing Indigenous Spirituality by Blair Stonechild
Autobiographical in nature, this book follows the 60-year journey of Blair Stonechild, a Cree-Saulteaux member of the Muscowpetung First Nation. He escaped abuse, neglect and attempted erasure of culture in the residential school system — a network of boarding schools in Canada for Indigenous peoples — to the acclaim of earning a PhD, all while trying to find out what Indigenous spirituality truly is and where it belongs.
Guided by an elder who insisted that all sacred knowledge be documented, Stonechild introduces Indigenous spirituality as the key to societal engagement and cooperation, and demonstrates its success in addressing urgent contemporary concerns.
Buy The Knowledge Seeker on Amazon
Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based by Sherri Mitchell
Written by Indigenous attorney and activist Sherri Mitchell of the Penobscot Nation, Sacred Instructions encourages us all to protect our spirit — from the ground up. Mitchell connects our spiritual health to that of the Earth and draws on Indigenous cultural values to help us move forward in our goal for collective survival. She reminds us that we are all connected by the Earth, our DNA and our spirit.
Buy Sacred Instructions on Amazon
Books that intersect Indigenous communities and US politics
Mainly centered on the politics that affect Indigenous communities across the country, these books illuminate the struggle to protect the land against corporate greed and financial gain.
As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, From Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker
Through the lens of environmental justice, Dina Gilio-Whitaker explores Indigenous relationships with the land during a history thick with land treaty violations. She delves into ongoing struggles for water and food security, as well as the difficulty of preserving and protecting sacred sites while government-sanctioned corporate invasions continue to stress the tenuous limits of Indigenous–US relations. As Long as Grass Grows provides key historical context for the movement of Indigenous stewardship that illuminates how the misuse of land is rooted in racism and white supremacy.
Buy As Long as Grass Grows on Amazon
Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance by Nick Estes
In the face of the Indigenous fight for autonomy and sovereignty comes the US government’s resistance — in the shape of a pipeline crossing Indigenous land. What began as a small protest to prevent access to and construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline became one of the largest Indigenous protest movements in US history. Lakota author Nick Estes provides readers with a solid historical context for land stewardship that connects us to the contemporary issues that many Indigenous communities face.
Buy Our History is the Future on Amazon
All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life by Winona LaDuke
Anishinaabe activist and author Winona LaDuke drives home the importance of our relationship to the land by emphasizing the connection between people and the environment. She speaks for community, culture and self-determination in an effort to help readers visualize an ecological, spiritual and political transformation that keeps land protected and both tribal and nontribal societies healthy.
Buy All Our Relations on Amazon
Children’s books written by Indigenous writers
Written for a variety of ages, these books touch on customs, traditions and historical events that helped shape the identity of Indigenous peoples.
The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway by Edward Benton-Banai
Praised by some elders as the children’s bible for the Anishinaabe, The Mishomis Book begins with an origin story that delves into the culture’s customs, beliefs and societal expectations. It’s written for a younger audience, but reads well for adults as well and functions as a perfect starting point to gain understanding of Indigenous histories and traditions.
Buy The Mishomis Book on Amazon
Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child
This beautifully illustrated children’s book looks at a powwow through the eyes of a child named Windy Girl, who recreates it in her dream-mind for her dog, Itchy Boy. Complete with a Grand Entry, drumming group, grass dancers, jingle-dress dancers and traditional foods, Windy Girl’s dream is a celebration of song and dance with dogs as magical participants. Brenda Child, of the Red Lake Ojibwe, uses text written in both Ojibwe (Anishinaabemowin) and English to make the history and spiritual depth of the powwow accessible to all.
Buy Bowwow Powwow on Amazon
How I Became a Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story by Tim Tingle
Narrated through the eyes of a young Choctaw boy, this series from Oklahoma Choctaw Tim Tingle follows the journey of Issac as he travels the historic Trail of Tears from Mississippi with his family. After surviving harrowing traumas along the way and witnessing others fall before him, Isaac finally meets his own tragic end — which is where the story really begins.
Intended for the reluctant middle-school reader, the trilogy covers a crucial and often-overlooked event in Indigenous-American history. Discussion questions are included at the end to prompt deeper analysis and create a clearer understanding of how we can use the Indigenous past to illuminate the present.
Buy How I Became a Ghost on Amazon
Flight by Sherman Alexie
Bestselling Spokane-Coeur d’Alene author Sherman Alexie hits home with a second novel for young adults. A story of fantastic realism, Flight follows Zits — a 15-year-old mixed Indigenous-American foster kid as he walks into a bank, fully armed with the intention to shoot everyone down. That is, until he’s catapulted through space and time into other identities throughout American history to help him understand where all of his pain began.
Humorous, heartbreaking and genuine, this story encourages young people to examine the concept of historical and intergenerational trauma, what it’s like to be Indigenous in the foster care system and the different ways people manage and respond to blatant and systemic racism. High school juniors and seniors, as well as adults, are the most appropriate audience for this novel.
Buy Flight on Amazon
Indigenous films, TV shows and podcasts
If you’re short on time or just prefer to learn visually or aurally, tune in to Indigenous voices through the following films, TV shows and podcasts.
This film from Cree filmmaker Neil Diamond provides a historical study of the misrepresentation of Indigenous cultures on the big and small screens, and explores how these falsehoods shape non-Indigenous society’s interpretation of Indigeneity.
Watch Reel Injun on Amazon Prime
The Canary Effect
Directed and produced by Yellow Thunder Woman and Robin Davey, The Canary Effect is a documentary that delves into the truth about the United States government, its policies and how they equate to abuse enacted against Native Americans both throughout history and in contemporary society.
Watch The Canary Effect on YouTube
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World
This documentary from Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana profiles Indigenous musicians in the US and Canada and examines how their work has contributed to the evolution of mainstream rock ‘n’ roll.
Watch Rumble on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Vudu
This 13-part documentary series explores the art of Indigenous tattooing traditions from all over the world.
Watch Skindigenous on YouTube
This award-winning TV drama is powerful, humorous and bittersweet as it chronicles the struggles and triumphs of urban Australian Indigenous society. Despite the cultural differences to American Indigenous nations, universal truths ring out for anyone familiar with contemporary Indigenous issues.
Watch Redfern Now on iTunes
All My Relations podcast
Hosted by Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip) and Adrienne Keene (Cherokee Nation), All My Relations explores our relationships to the land and one another. Each podcast covers a new topic that affects the lives of Indigenous peoples, from food sovereignty to Native fashion to decolonizing sex.
Listen to the All My Relations podcast
The research team at the Indigenous Research Center (IRC) in California offers a podcast featuring cutting-edge, roundtable discussions on everything from the use of traditional Indigenous songs, to recognizing accomplishments and good deeds, to how we can make Western education work with tribal communities.
Listen to Podcast IRC
Native Opinion: An American Indian Perspective podcast
Hosted by Michael Kickingbear (Mashantucket Pequot) and David GreyOwl (Echoda Eastern Cherokee), Native Opinion offers Indigenous perspectives on current affairs, the environment and American history and culture.
Listen to the Native Opinion: An American Indian Perspective podcast
A note about the Indigenous creators featured on this list
We list works contributed by Indigenous writers and artists wherever possible. Some authors are members of tribal nations that exist across international borders. So while an Anishinaabe person may reside in Canada, the cultural values, customs and beliefs remain intact — regardless of that nation’s physical geography.
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