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Native American Heritage Month: Indigenous Voices

by Brita Servaes (Libraries) on 2023-10-31T12:26:00-04:00 in Cultural and Ethnic Studies | 0 Comments

In American mainstream scholarship and media, the cultures and histories of Native American peoples are most often presented and “explained” through the mediation of non-Native authors and other creators, such as for example in the recent Hollywood movie “Killers of the Flower Moon,” about the murders of Osage people in the 1920s.

These depictions continue, to varying extent, the stereotyping and erasure that are rooted in a long colonial history which to this day includes talking at, about and over Indigenous peoples and their knowledge and experiences. The result is an often distorted view and very “limited knowledge and perspective” on Indigenous histories and cultures that Lakota scholar, writer and activist Vine Deloria Jr. criticized in his1970 book We Talk You Listen+. 

So, I would like to foreground some ways we can start to seek out and listen to Native Voices*. 

(Note: Where you see an * please log in with your New School credentials for full access. A + indicates a catalog record - please refresh your browser if the page is blank at first.)

To begin, here is the Pulitzer finalist historical novel Mean Spirit+ by Chickasaw author Linda Hogan telling the Osage story from an Indigenous point of view. 

Finding Native voices in the telling of history is not a straightforward task! Looking for works written by Native authors in any  library catalog is overshadowed by the persistent colonial legacy that still haunts most cultural institutions, including libraries. Without getting too technical, the Subject tags (formally called Subject Headings) that identify contributions by Native American authors are also used for books about Native American histories and cultures. And these subject headings often continue using outdated and confusing terminology such as Indians of North America, and often the catalog entries fail to tag Native authors’ contributions to the historical record with the subject keyword History.  

One good strategy is to use an Advanced Search and combine Subject (Is exact) Indians of North America with Subject Contains subject keywords such as Autobiography* or with just a keyword in Any Field Contains (such as legal status*). And then patiently look through the results to identify contributions by Native authors and to find additional keywords to use in subsequent searches. 

With a little patience I found such Indigenous historical records as winter counts (The Years the Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithonian+), calendars (One Hundred Summers: a Kiowa Calendar Record*) and maps (Another America: Native American Maps and the History of Our Land+). 

The wide range of contemporary Native experiences is reflected in novels, short stories and poetry,  as 10 Books by Native Authors that left their Mark on Me* by Upper Skagit and Nooksack writer Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe attests to. You can look for more articles like this one, as well as reviews and author interviews in our general Proquest* database. I did a search on “Native American authors.”

And like in all contemporary culture, there is satire (Bury My Heart at Chuck E Cheese’s), and there are irreverent modern classics in-the-making (the FX series Reservation Dogs).

Poetry read out loud is a beautiful and immediate way to give voice to the shared range of human experience. In the Living Nations, Living Words project, 23rd Library of Congress poet laureate Joy Harjo created an interactive map of some contemporary Native poets, each reading and discussing a poem.

I remember many years ago hearing Joseph Bruchac in a radio interview talking about how it is important for the land and the beings around to hear the Indigenous languages they have gotten used to hearing over centuries. Keeping Indigenous languages alive and thriving is essential cultural work. And hearing these languages spoken is good for all of us.

In this spirit, and closing the circle where I began this post, with the Osage Nation, here is a story, Coyote and Bear, recounted in its original language.

Of course I am barely touching the surface of the rich legacy and current output of Indigenous contributions to scholarship, arts and culture - and I do hope you are inspired to explore further. As always, you can AskUs if you would like some guidance on your search, or if you would like to share your knowledge and insights with us.


MLA Citation: Servaes, Brita. "Native American Heritage Month: Indigenous Voices." This Led to That, The New School Libraries, 31 Oct. 2023,

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