The not-so-distant past of 1972 marked the first celebration of Columbus Day, but it didn’t take long, just 5 years, for a protest to ignite pointing out that Columbus didn’t really discover the new world: It was already there, inhabited by the indigenous peoples who suffered inexpressible horrors after Mr. Christopher arrived. Nearly 50 years later, the outcry has risen to a deafening roar, and many choose to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 11th instead of, or perhaps in addition to, Columbus Day. 

For a more in-depth look at the changes in our society’s mindset that occurred between then and now, changes that, while admirable, will never erase the pain and trauma that is now a part of our national identity, head over to Smithsonian.com. It’s a wonderful resource that’s full of fascinating history that makes for a great educational opportunity on this important day. If history isn’t your bread and butter, maybe you appreciate sociology, political awareness, geography, ecology or mythology. There are so many threads weaving together both the rich tapestry of the land we call home. If nothing else, when you’re on our website you probably love a good book: just know we’ve always got you covered! 

In honor of the first, native, Americans, we’ve selected a cornucopia of books written by and about indigenous peoples or those who share in and proudly proclaim the heritage. Maybe you have the day off and want to spend your bonus spare time brushing up on your knowledge of the backstory of our United States. Even if you don’t have the day off, you might find that these books are well worth reading after working hours. 

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day from BookTrib!

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse 

This pick comes with a high endorsement from the wonderful BookTrib editor Chelsea Ciccone, and while I may be biased, she has impeccable taste. Black Sun is the creation of a New York Times bestselling author who also happened to write Star Wars: Resistance Reborn. It’s the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, which is built on the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and incorporates celestial prophecies, political tension and everybody’s favorite: forbidden magic. The prophecy foretold, “A god will return / When the earth and sky converge / Under the black sun,” so when the winter solstice coincides with a solar eclipse, the sacred city of Tova braces itself for the unpredictable. 

Meanwhile, two foreign visitors sail over. Xiala has a checkered past but a strange ability to calm stormy seas, and her passenger, Serapio, is a mysterious and destiny-bound young man she suspects may prove more harm than good … readers meet profoundly unique characters in this stunning otherworldly novel. An Amazon reviewer gushes, “This book is literally everything I could ask for in a high fantasy book, and I literally never wanted it to end … I haven’t felt this excited about a book series since I was a teenager.” How can you not try it out after praise like that?

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Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley 

Angeline Boulley’s debut novel was recently a Reese’s Book Club pick. Even better, the book has been optioned by Higher Ground for an original series on Netflix in partnership with the Obamas’ production company. It’s truly a groundbreaking thriller, aimed at a YA audience, about a Native American teen who faces tremendous odds in her fight for truth, justice and peace. 18-year-old Daunis’ mixed heritage sometimes feels more isolating than pride-inducing, especially when compounded by her exposure to two worlds, her hometown and the nearby Ojibwe reservation. 

Then, she sees a murder happen right in front of her, leading to our protagonist bravely contributing to a covert FBI operation. She’s simultaneously striking up her own investigation using her combined knowledge of cold-hard chemistry and traditional Ojibwe medicine. As if her life wasn’t complicated enough already! Daunis uncovers her personal Anishinaabe identity in her efforts to protect her community, even if it jeopardizes everything she’s accustomed to. In the end, isolation gives way to real intrinsic pride in herself and her people. 

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Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Here we have a National Indie Bestseller, one of TIME’s Best 100 Fantasy Books of All Time (all time!!), an NPR Best Book of 2020 and one of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels for Youth. Don’t even get me started quoting the myriad of impressive reviews by all the top news outlets. Clearly, this one’s a gorgeously written, can’t-miss novel and it also just happens to be by, and about, an indigenous young lady. 

​​Ellie, short for the name in the book’s title, lives in an alternate version of America. This one is shaped by ancestral magics, indigenous knowledge and immigrant groups. Ellie can commune with and raise the spirits of deceased animals including her beloved, now-ghostly pup, Kirby. Then her cousin dies, and though all signs point to a car crash, his ghost tells a different tale rife with murder. With the aid of family, her best friend Jay, and spirited spirits, Elatsoe becomes a detective crossing dimensions. But enemies come from all sides of the divide, and her work is far from simple. This contemporary-minded debut highlights an asexual Apache teen protagonist and features mystery, horror, noir, ancestral knowledge, marvelously eerie illustrations, magic and vivid storytelling.

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The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Global warming has destroyed most of the world, which by itself is quite enough, but now a new crisis is here. The Indigenous people of North America are being hunted because their bone marrow carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. A 15-year-old and his companions flee these thieves, struggling to survive the forces hunting them down. 

The harried crew attempts to find their loved ones and escape from the “recruiters,” a nefarious enemy seeking them out for terrifying reasons. This is a story of connection and humanity despite the horrific circumstances. Climate change scares us all for many reasons, of course, but this book takes those concerns a step further by investigating the social issues that could stem from rampant environmental crises. It’s a thought-provoking choice on this thought-provoking holiday. 

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There There by Tommy Orange

This unique book tells the stories of 12 people of Native American descent in Oakland, CA, where “Urban Indians” pick their way through a landscape rife with crime. Urban Indians stem from the Indian Relocation Act of 1952, which encouraged Native Americans to assimilate and find jobs in cities by leaving reservations. Thus, an increasing number of writers with indigenous roots set their works in fast-paced modernity rather than traditional reservations. It’s a collection of tales that will pull the heartstrings and strike a true chord with many Indigenous people going about life today. 

Terese Marie Mailhot went from a British Columbia reservation to welfare. An Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee tells her complicated truths. Tommy Pico, a young, queer poet from the Viejas Reservation of the Kumeyaay now lives in Brooklyn and has stories galore from his journey. These are only a few of the voices. “The land is everywhere or nowhere,” writes Orange, connecting his title as taken from the indelible Gertrude Stein quote, “There is no there there,” describing her return visit to her native Oakland. While the stories are somber, the storytellers are silent no more and their messages are prescient, poignant and important. Read our review here

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Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

This book has been described as Harry Potter meets Catcher in the Rye. It also inspired a coming-of-age supernatural thriller TV series that aired in Canada in 2020 under the title Trickster. Says one review, “Indigenous readers will likely find these stories a familiar place and be relieved to join Robinson’s characters on known paths. Others will call it magical realism or surreal storytelling. Her gift is in imagining these people and stories so well they become real and connecting them to the unreal in clever, beautiful ways.” In a work utterly original and acute, the author has hit the nail on the head with this tale that marries mundane teen life and mystic indigenous beliefs.

Jared, at first glance, fulfills a classic high school stereotype: the burnout. He sells weed, has an alcoholic and abusive mother and turns to negative coping skills. Yet he’s also gifted with compassion and the need to protect those who can’t protect themselves. This may be because he’s never been able to rely on anyone: even his beloved pit bull winds up dead. Also, he hears voices … the voices of ravens. And they might be telling him something ancient and important. Stereotypes slip away quickly in this book that goes far off the beaten path. 

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Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

From an author who “never seems to waste a shot” (New York Times) comes an epic tale of redemption, reconciliation and heartbreak. The protagonist, Saul Indian Horse, has seen better days: he’s now in an alcoholism treatment facility, advised that relaying his backstory may alleviate his misery. With great reluctance, he takes us back to Northern Ontario and life in Ojibway camp. Then, Saul is taken forcibly from his family and plopped, cruelly, into an abusive boarding school aiming to wash away every trace of his indigenous heritage. 

He finds solace in an unlikely place: the hockey rink, where his amazing skill quickly means leaving the school’s all-Ojibway team to join the white-dominated regional circuit … where he faces the demons of intense racism. Can he ever belong in a world that’s so opposed to his identity? Can he fulfill his passions while staying true to his past? How does he wind up in the facility? Says none other than acclaimed author Louise Erdrich, “Richard Wagamese is a born storyteller,” so embark on this journey with great expectations.  

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