The best books that will change the way you think about the Indigenous histories of North America

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a historian of the Indigenous world for more than two decades, but I have learned so much since I expanded my perspective from Mesoamerica and the Aztec-Mexica into the wider history of Native peoples. There are literally hundreds of Indigenous communities across the world and so there is always more to learn. I have been incredibly privileged to learn by listening to Indigenous people – in person, in print, and on digital and social media. I hope these books can offer some starting points to set you on a similar journey of discovery, opening up some new ways of thinking and of seeing both the past and the present.


I wrote...

Book cover of On Savage Shores: How Indigenous Americans Discovered Europe

What is my book about?

We have long been taught to presume that modern global history began when the 'Old World' encountered the 'New', when Christopher Columbus 'discovered' America in 1492. But, as Caroline Dodds Pennock conclusively shows in this groundbreaking book, for tens of thousands of Aztecs, Maya, Totonacs, Inuit, and others – enslaved people, diplomats, explorers, servants, traders – the reverse was true: they discovered Europe. For them, Europe comprised savage shores, a land of riches and marvels, yet perplexing for its brutal disparities of wealth and quality of life, and its baffling beliefs. The story of these Indigenous Americans abroad is a story of abduction, loss, cultural appropriation, and, as they saw it, of apocalypse – a story that has largely been absent from our collective imagination of the times.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance

Caroline Dodds Pennock Why did I love this book?

Combining personal memoir and scrupulous history, this traces the long history of Indigenous resistance in the United States, showing it as a story of self-defence and struggles for sovereignty.

Starting with the remarkable Indigenous resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, Estes’s work manages to combine a readable introduction to complex history with an urgent recognition of the stakes involved in the fight for land, water, and natural resources today.

One of my favourite recommendations to anyone who wants to start understanding the deep roots of contemporary issues facing Indigenous communities.

By Nick Estes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Our History Is the Future as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 2016, a small protest encampment at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, initially established to block construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, grew to be the largest Indigenous protest movement in the twenty-first century, attracting tens of thousands of Indigenous and non-Native allies from around the world. Its slogan "Mni Wiconi"-Water is Life-was about more than just a pipeline. Water Protectors knew this battle for Native sovereignty had already been fought many times before, and that, even after the encampment was gone, their anti-colonial struggle would continue.

In Our History is the Future, Nick Estes traces traditions…


Book cover of All Our Relations: Indigenous Trauma in the Shadow of Colonialism

Caroline Dodds Pennock Why did I love this book?

A Canadian of Polish and Ojibwe descent, you can tell that Talaga is an experienced journalist, as this moving book is a combination of clear narrative and incisive research.

Starting with Canada, but then widening her lens to Indigenous communities across the world, Talaga shows how the violence of colonialism, the rupture from land and community, and the loss of heritage – compounded by socioeconomic deprivation – has resulted in an epidemic of youth suicide and generational trauma across Indigenous communities.

Talaga’s analysis is devastating, but also gives hope of a possible future reconciliation, through examples of resilience and the recovery of Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

By Tanya Talaga,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All Our Relations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The world's Indigenous communities are fighting to live and dying too young. In this vital and incisive work, Tanya Talaga explores intergenerational trauma and the alarming rise of youth suicide.

From Northern Ontario to Nunavut, Norway, Brazil, Australia, and the United States, the Indigenous experience in colonised nations is startlingly similar and deeply disturbing. It is an experience marked by the violent separation of Peoples from the land, the separation of families, and the separation of individuals from traditional ways of life - all of which has culminated in a spiritual separation that has had an enduring impact on generations…


Book cover of The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America

Caroline Dodds Pennock Why did I love this book?

Andrés Reséndez estimates that between 2.4 and 4.9 million Indigenous Americans were enslaved between 1492 and 1900, a statistic that will shock many people, as the history of Native enslavement in the Americas barely seems to have touched the popular imagination.

This book, accessibly written but based on meticulous research, is absolutely essential reading, as it returns this ‘other slavery’ to its rightful place in our understandings of Indigenous, American, and global history.

By Andres Resendez,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Since the time of Columbus, Indian slavery was illegal in much of the American continent. Yet, as historian Andres Resendez illuminates in The Other Slavery, it was practiced for centuries as an open secret. There was no abolitionist movement to protect the tens of thousands of natives who were kidnapped and enslaved by the conquistadors and later forced to serve as domestics for Mormons and rich Anglos, or to descend into the "mouth of hell" of eighteenth-century silver mines, where, if they didn't die quickly from cave-ins, they would die slowly from silica in their lungs. Resendez builds the incisive,…


Book cover of The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present

Caroline Dodds Pennock Why did I love this book?

This readable book shows how – contrary to the narrative of the famous Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee – Native history did not end with the massacre at Wounded Knee.

Although the title says it starts in 1890, Treuer actually does a great job of sketching the long histories of the diverse Indigenous peoples that lived in the Americas before the invasion of Europeans and showing their continuing vibrant cultures.

Treuer combines his personal experiences – having grown up Ojibwe on a reservation – with his research into Indigenous struggles to preserve their culture in the face of assimilation and erasure. Importantly, he shows the ways in which Native peoples have become part of urban and ‘modern’ society, showing their capacity for change and adaptation and their ubiquitous presence in America today.

By David Treuer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

FINALIST FOR THE 2019 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2020 ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Named a best book of 2019 by The New York Times, TIME, The Washington Post, NPR, Hudson Booksellers, The New York Public Library, The Dallas Morning News, and Library Journal.

"Chapter after chapter, it's like one shattered myth after another." - NPR

"An informed, moving and kaleidoscopic portrait... Treuer's powerful book suggests the need for soul-searching about the meanings of American history and the stories we tell ourselves about this nation's past.." - New York Times Book Review, front…


Book cover of Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future

Caroline Dodds Pennock Why did I love this book?

In this humane call to action, Anishnaabe author Patty Krawec combines an accessible introduction to the European invasion of the Americas with practical suggestions for grappling with these histories and their legacy.

Weaving the stories of her ancestors with personal accounts and historical context, Krawec makes a case for how Christian and Indigenous worldviews can become compatible, and makes suggestions for how we can all become better kin to each other. I devoured this book and have been recommending it to everyone ever since.

By Patty Krawec,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

We find our way forward by going back.

The invented history of the Western world is crumbling fast, Anishinaabe writer Patty Krawec says, but we can still honor the bonds between us. Settlers dominated and divided, but Indigenous peoples won't just send them all "home."

Weaving her own story with the story of her ancestors and with the broader themes of creation, replacement, and disappearance, Krawec helps readers see settler colonialism through the eyes of an Indigenous writer. Settler colonialism tried to force us into one particular way of living, but the old ways of kinship can help us imagine…


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A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

Book cover of A Diary in the Age of Water

Nina Munteanu Author Of Darwin's Paradox

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Ecologist Mother Teacher Explorer

Nina's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This climate fiction novel follows four generations of women and their battles against a global giant that controls and manipulates Earth’s water. Told mostly through a diary and drawing on scientific observation and personal reflection, Lynna’s story unfolds incrementally, like climate change itself. Her gritty memoir describes a near-future Toronto in the grips of severe water scarcity.

Single mother and limnologist Lynna witnesses disturbing events as she works for the powerful international utility CanadaCorp. Fearing for the welfare of her rebellious teenage daughter, Lynna sets in motion a series of events that tumble out of her control with calamitous consequence. The novel explores identity, relationship, and our concept of what is “normal”—as a nation and an individual—in a world that is rapidly and incomprehensibly changing.

A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

What is this book about?

Centuries from now, in a post-climate change dying boreal forest of what used to be northern Canada, Kyo, a young acolyte called to service in the Exodus, discovers a diary that may provide her with the answers to her yearning for Earth’s past—to the Age of Water, when the “Water Twins” destroyed humanity in hatred—events that have plagued her nightly in dreams. Looking for answers to this holocaust—and disturbed by her macabre longing for connection to the Water Twins—Kyo is led to the diary of a limnologist from the time just prior to the destruction. This gritty memoir describes a…


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