The best books on urban Indigenous lives

Why am I passionate about this?

I came to Indigenous history through the experience as a settler growing up at the edge of a reservation. I also love cities as “texts,” and the ways in which urban places never fully erase what came before. These two interests led me to urban Indigenous studies. Urban and Indigenous histories are often treated as though they are mutually exclusive, when in fact they are deeply entangled with each other: for example, the majority of Indigenous people in the United States live in urban areas. These works capture the rich history of migration, political organizing, and cultural production that has taken place in Indigenous cities.


I wrote...

Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire

By Coll Thrush,

Book cover of Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire

What is my book about?

Even the “centre” of empire has an Indigenous history. Indigenous London offers a vision of the city's past from a new perspective: that of Indigenous children, women, and men who traveled there, willingly or otherwise, from territories that became Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. Some, like the Powhatan noblewoman Pocahontas, are familiar; others, like an Odawa boy held as a prisoner of war in the eighteenth century, have almost been lost to history. Indigenous London illustrates how the city learned to be an imperial place and how Indigenous people were central to that process. Including poems built from archival fragments and self-guided tours of Indigenous sites across the city, Indigenous London offers an illuminating perspective on one of the world’s great cities.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Sacred Smokes

Coll Thrush Why did I love this book?

This collection of short stories draws from Van Alst’s experience as a Native American growing up in Chicago, where racism and gang violence were everyday realities. Gripping and uncompromising, the stories walk a line between the traumas of Indigenous life in America and the possibilities of resilience and resistance.

By Theodore C. Van Alst,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Growing up in a gang in the city can be dark. Growing up Native American in a gang in Chicago is a whole different story. This book takes a trip through that unexplored part of Indian Country, an intense journey that is full of surprises, shining a light on the interior lives of people whose intellectual and emotional concerns are often overlooked. This dark, compelling, occasionally inappropriate, and often hilarious linked story collection introduces a character who defies all stereotypes about urban life and Indians. He will be in readers' heads for a long time to come.


Book cover of City Indian: Native American Activism in Chicago, 1893-1934

Coll Thrush Why did I love this book?

LaPier and Beck’s book is the perfect backstory to Van Alst’s.

Chicago, built on the lands of the Three Fires Council, has a long history as an Indigenous metropolis, from activism around the famous 1893 World’s Fair to the building of urban Indian organizations. The authors show how Indigenous people are everywhere in the archives. 

By Rosalyn R. LaPier, David R. M. Beck,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Robert G. Athearn Award from the Western History Association

In City Indian Rosalyn R. LaPier and David R. M. Beck tell the engaging story of American Indians who migrated to Chicago from across America to work and emerged as activists. From the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition to the 1934 Century of Progress Fair, American Indians in Chicago voiced their opinions about political, social, educational, and racial issues.
City Indian focuses on the privileged members of the American Indian community in Chicago: doctors, nurses, business owners, teachers, and entertainers. During the Progressive Era more than any other time in the city's…


Book cover of Indigenous Memory, Urban Reality: Stories of American Indian Relocation and Reclamation

Coll Thrush Why did I love this book?

Rather than focusing on historical archives, this book is based on years of face-to-face research in and with urban Indigenous communities. Deftly describing the urban politics of identity, Jacobs provides insights into the ways in which Indigenous people manage senses of self and community in the twenty-first-century city.

By Michelle R. Jacobs,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Indigenous Memory, Urban Reality as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Contemporary accounts of urban Native identity in two pan-Indian communities
In the last half century, changing racial and cultural dynamics in the United States have caused an explosion in the number of people claiming to be American Indian, from just over half a million in 1960 to over three million in 2013. Additionally, seven out of ten American Indians live in or near cities, rather than in tribal communities, and that number is growing.
In Indigenous Memory, Urban Reality, Michelle Jacobs examines the new reality of the American Indian urban experience. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted over two and a…


Book cover of Indian Cities: Histories of Indigenous Urbanization

Coll Thrush Why did I love this book?

This edited collection of cutting-edge essays by scholars from across North America captures the profound diversity of Indigenous urban experience.

Ranging from Indigenous cities that existed prior to European arrival through the colonial period to the recent past, this anthology explodes the notion that Indigenous and urban histories have little to do with each other.

By Kent Blansett (editor), Cathleen D. Cahill (editor), Andrew Needham (editor)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From ancient metropolises like Pueblo Bonito and TenochtitlAn to the twenty-first century Oceti Sakowin encampment of NoDAPL water protectors, Native people have built and lived in cities-a fact little noted in either urban or Indigenous histories. By foregrounding Indigenous peoples as city makers and city dwellers, as agents and subjects of urbanization, the essays in this volume simultaneously highlight the impact of Indigenous people on urban places and the effects of urbanism on Indigenous people and politics.

The authors-Native and non-Native, anthropologists and geographers as well as historians-use the term "Indian cities" to represent collective urban spaces established and regulated…


Book cover of There There

Coll Thrush Why did I love this book?

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Orange’s novel is set in Indigenous Oakland and follows powwow dancers as they navigate identity, community, and loss. Widely praised for its articulation of today’s urban Indigenous experience, this work is fiction yet captures the realities that have emerged from longer histories.

By Tommy Orange,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked There There as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

** Shortlisted for the 2020 International Dublin Literary Award **

One of Barack Obama's best books of 2018, the New York Times bestselling novel about contemporary America from a bold new Native American voice

'A thunderclap' Marlon James
'Astonishing' Margaret Atwood, via Twitter
'Pure soaring beauty' Colm Toibin

Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and hoping to reconnect with her estranged family. That's why she is there. Dene is there because he has been collecting stories to honour his uncle's death, while Edwin is looking for his true father and Opal came to watch her boy Orvil dance.

All of…


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The Others

By Evette Davis,

Book cover of The Others

Evette Davis Author Of Woman King

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve worked in journalism, politics, and public policy for 30-plus years and watched as the extreme voices gained the most traction on either side of a debate. On social media, these minority views often dominate the discussion. 48 States is a stand-alone novel highlighting the problems of extremist viewpoints in a civil society. I also have another book series that features a political consultant who discovers she's a witch and joins a secret society that uses magic to manipulate elections to protect humanity. Bottom line: if I can’t fix political discourse for a living, I can write science fiction novels that contemplate how to do it.

Evette's book list on dystopian stories for the bada** feminist in us all

What is my book about?

True Blood meets Supernatural in the kickoff of this urban paranormal fantasy series from an acclaimed author. Readers enter a dystopian San Francisco filled with empaths and vampires embroiled in political unrest—and Book 1 is just the beginning.

Much as she wishes otherwise, superstar political consultant Olivia Shepherd was born a powerful empath. It’s a legacy she walked away from long ago—but when she wakes up one morning to find Elsa, a tenacious time-walker, standing in her kitchen, she realizes she can no longer ignore her gifts. She is quickly plunged into the hidden world of powerful “Others” and drafted to work for the Council, a shadowy organization that summons the fog to San Francisco to obscure their involvement in human affairs.

Complicating matters further is Olivia’s new love interest, William. A centuries-old vampire, William is far too jaded to take an interest in human affairs—but Olivia no longer has the luxury of remaining impartial. As shocking details from Olivia’s own past emerge and her role in the Council begins to take shape, will she rise to the challenge of her destiny?

The Others

By Evette Davis,

What is this book about?

True Blood meets Supernatural in the kickoff of this urban paranormal fantasy series from an acclaimed author. Readers enter a dystopian San Francisco filled with empaths and vampires embroiled in political unrest—and Book 1 is just the beginning.

Much as she wishes otherwise, superstar political consultant Olivia Shepherd was born a powerful empath. It’s a legacy she walked away from long ago—but when she wakes up one morning to find Elsa, a tenacious time-walker, standing in her kitchen, she realizes she can no longer ignore her gifts. She is quickly plunged into the hidden world of powerful “Others” and drafted…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Chicago, American Indians, and Illinois?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Chicago, American Indians, and Illinois.

Chicago Explore 372 books about Chicago
American Indians Explore 217 books about American Indians
Illinois Explore 83 books about Illinois