The best books of Native American cultural archives

Who are we?

Though from different backgrounds, we share a profound passion for Native culture. As an enrolled member of the White Earth Chippewa Tribe of Minnesota, Gordon’s poetry and fiction draw deeply from his Anishinabe heritage and contribute to the current flowering of Indian writing. Ivy is the grandchild of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. As a scholar and teacher, she was appalled that Native writers are largely excluded from the American canon and worked to right that wrong. They met through their shared interest in Samson Occom, an 18th-century Mohegan writer, and decided to collaborate on increasing awareness of the necessity of Native writing to sustaining our future.

We wrote...

Afterlives of Indigenous Archives

By Ivy Schweitzer and Gordon Henry (editor),

Book cover of Afterlives of Indigenous Archives

What is our book about?

Afterlives of Indigenous Archives aims to empower Native people by re-envisioning the western archive as a site of community-based practices that can sensitively preserve and circulate their cultural traditions. It brings together essays by an international and interdisciplinary group of Indigenous scholars, researchers in the fields of Indigenous studies and Early American studies, as well as librarians, curators, activists, and storytellers. The essays examine a variety of innovative archival and digital projects focused on Indigenous cultures, explaining their relevance to the lives and interests of Native people and communities. This unique collection offers Indigenous perspectives and new technological applications that can imaginatively reconstruct the past, protect tribal memories in the present, and offer a powerful vision for a vibrant and more just future. 

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The books we picked & why

Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Ivy Schweitzer and Gordon Henry Why did I love this book?

This is a lovingly written and indispensable archive of Native natural wisdom. Every chapter is a revelation, explaining why we need to reject an either/or mindset and embrace a both/and vision that braids analysis and emotion, utility and beauty, modern science with ancient wisdom. Kimmerer is a Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She brings these two seemingly opposed roles together in this eye-opening series of accounts of what nature and, in particular, the sweetgrass plant, can teach us about collaboration, healing, and survival, about what we really have to be thankful for.

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

43 authors picked Braiding Sweetgrass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Called the work of "a mesmerizing storyteller with deep compassion and memorable prose" (Publishers Weekly) and the book that, "anyone interested in natural history, botany, protecting nature, or Native American culture will love," by Library Journal, Braiding Sweetgrass is poised to be a classic of nature writing. As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take "us on a journey that is…

Book cover of The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast

Ivy Schweitzer and Gordon Henry Why did I love this book?

This account of early Native writing by a Wabanaki scholar has had a profound effect on our work as scholars, teachers, and writers. It recovers an archive that requires us to put Native literature at the center of a white-dominated literary history. Brooks’ brilliant argument connects Native language and history of the Northeast with its geography, a vast network of interconnected waterways that served as the basis for a sophisticated communal Native system of communication. Foundational to this system is the idea of “the common pot,” shared by all Algonquian-speaking peoples, that everyone and everything is related and interdependent for survival and flourishing. Including the invading Europeans, whose writing technologies Native peoples then absorbed and adapted. 

By Lisa Brooks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Common Pot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Literary critics frequently portray early Native American writers either as individuals caught between two worlds or as subjects who, even as they defied the colonial world, struggled to exist within it. In striking counterpoint to these analyses, Lisa Brooks demonstrates the ways in which Native leaders-including Samson Occom, Joseph Brant, Hendrick Aupaumut, and William Apess-adopted writing as a tool to reclaim rights and land in the Native networks of what is now the northeastern United States.

"The Common Pot," a metaphor that appears in Native writings during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, embodies land, community, and the shared space of…

Book cover of Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England

Ivy Schweitzer and Gordon Henry Why did I love this book?

We highly recommend this capacious “counter-archive” of Native writing because it definitively lays to rest the myth of the “vanishing Indian.” Covering more than four centuries, it includes work from ten tribal nations from Maine to Connecticut in the form of early political petitions and land deeds to contemporary poetry and blogs. We love that its editor, a non-Native scholar, drew on the expertise of eleven Native editors from tribal communities for its diverse content, sourced from oral narratives, manuscripts stored in garages, and passed-around bootlegged copies. We also love that the book inspired a website for the extra material and for new work being produced now. In this sense, the website is a living document that illuminates the long history and vibrant presence of Indigenous writing.

By Siobhan Senier (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dawnland Voices as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dawnland Voices calls attention to the little-known but extraordinarily rich literary traditions of New England's Native Americans. This pathbreaking anthology includes both classic and contemporary literary works from ten New England indigenous nations: the Abenaki, Maliseet, Mi'kmaq, Mohegan, Narragansett, Nipmuc, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Schaghticoke, and Wampanoag.
Through literary collaboration and recovery, Siobhan Senier and Native tribal historians and scholars have crafted a unique volume covering a variety of genres and historical periods. From the earliest petroglyphs and petitions to contemporary stories and hip-hop poetry, this volume highlights the diversity and strength of New England Native literary traditions. Dawnland Voices introduces readers…

Book cover of Assembled for Use: Indigenous Compilation and the Archives of Early Native American Literatures

Ivy Schweitzer and Gordon Henry Why did I love this book?

Though we are thankful for the current movements to decolonize archives and museums, from at least 1750, Native writers have been doing this important survival work of asserting Native ways of knowing. This revelation is the subject of Wisecup’s ground-breaking study. It shows how early Native writers assembled lists, collages, and literary texts that, through juxtaposition and recontextualization, resisted the way colonial archives defined their bodies, belongings, and words as ethnographic evidence of vanishing peoples. Wisecup offers revealing ways to read the Indigenous compilations of key figures like Mohegan Samson Occom’s medicinal recipes, Ojibwe Charlotte Johnston’s poetry scrapbooks, and Abenaki leader Joseph Laurent’s vocabulary lists. We also deeply appreciate how Wisecup ends each chapter by connecting the early writer it focuses on to contemporary Indigenous culture.

By Kelly Wisecup,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Assembled for Use as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A wide-ranging, multidisciplinary look at Native American literature through non-narrative texts like lists, albums, recipes, and scrapbooks

"An intricate history of Native textual production, use, and circulation that reshapes how we think about relationships between Native materials and settler-colonial collections."-Rose Miron, D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies at the Newberry Library

Kelly Wisecup offers a sweeping account of early Native American literatures by examining Indigenous compilations: intentionally assembled texts that Native people made by juxtaposing and recontextualizing textual excerpts into new relations and meanings. Experiments in reading and recirculation, Indigenous compilations include Mohegan minister Samson Occom's medicinal…

Book cover of Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race”

Ivy Schweitzer and Gordon Henry Why did I love this book?

We greatly admire this born-digital “scalar book” for its attempt to build a decolonizing “counter-archive” out of one of the most in/famous western archives of Indigenous materials. Edward S. Curtis was an early 20th-century photographer, whose major collection, The North American Indian, defined the stereotypic image of the vanishing Native. It succeeded in capturing and “othering” Natives as somehow heroic and stoic, but also primitive and gone. In consultation with many Native tribes, this digital book reveals how Curtis’s work “performs,” or does that work of western archives. By juxtaposing his compelling images with short essays that contextualize and thus humanize his photographic subjects, this project allows us to acknowledge and repair the injustices of the past in the present.

You might also like...

The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

Book cover of The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

Alexander Rose Author Of Empires of the Sky: Zeppelins, Airplanes, and Two Men's Epic Duel to Rule the World

New book alert!

Who am I?

A long time ago, I was an early-aviation historian, but eventually realized that I knew only half the story—the part about airplanes. But what about airships? Initially, I assumed, like so many others, that they were a flash-in-the-pan, a ridiculous dead-end technology, but then I realized these wondrous giants had roamed and awed the world for nearly four decades. There was a bigger story here of an old rivalry between airplanes and airships, one that had since been forgotten, and Empires of the Sky was the result.

Alexander's book list on Zeppelin airships

What is my book about?

From the author of Washington’s Spies, the thrilling story of two rival secret agents — one Confederate, the other Union — sent to Britain during the Civil War.

The South’s James Bulloch, charming and devious, was ordered to acquire a clandestine fleet intended to break Lincoln’s blockade, sink Northern merchant vessels, and drown the U.S. Navy’s mightiest ships at sea. Opposing him was Thomas Dudley, an upright Quaker lawyer determined to stop Bulloch in a spy-versus-spy game of move and countermove, gambit and sacrifice, intrigue and betrayal.

Their battleground was the Dickensian port of Liverpool, whose dockyards built more ships each year than the rest of the world combined and whose merchant princes, said one observer, were “addicted to Southern proclivities, foreign slave trade, and domestic bribery.”

The Lion and the Fox: Two Rival Spies and the Secret Plot to Build a Confederate Navy

By Alexander Rose,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of Washington's Spies, the thrilling story of the Confederate spy who came to Britain to turn the tide of the Civil War-and the Union agent resolved to stop him.

"Entertaining and deeply researched...with a rich cast of spies, crooks, bent businessmen and drunken sailors...Rose relates the tale with gusto." -The New York Times

In 1861, soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, two secret agents-one a Confederate, the other his Union rival-were dispatched to neutral Britain, each entrusted with a vital mission.

The South's James Bulloch, charming and devious, was to acquire…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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