The massive landscape of North America has fostered a diverse array of Indigenous communities, each with their own unique story.
There are many Indigenous authors — like the eight that follow — who, through their work, continue to tell their stories, weighing in on the topics of tradition, cultural relevance, identity, and belonging.
1. We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell
Author Traci Sorell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, walks the reader through modern Cherokee life in this beautifully illustrated children’s book. We Are Grateful touches on subjects such as Cherokee name origins, respect for elders, and the Trail of Tears, making it an illuminating book for readers of all ages — especially those making their way through our Cherokee course, as it features Cherokee words alongside pronunciation guides, definitions, and the full Cherokee syllabary.
2. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich tackles the tough subjects of violence, crime, and the pursuit of justice in an unjust world through the eyes of a 13-year-old Ojibwe boy called Joe. While Erdrich’s work is steeped in magical realism and Ojibwe tradition and lore, she also faces head-on the real-world problems of the legal system, the harsh realities of growing up, and the eternal search for a sense of belonging.
3. Sáanii Dahataal/The Women Are Singing by Luci Tapahonso
Luci Tapahonso’s collection of poems and stories reflect her traditional upbringing on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Speaking Navajo as her first language, and English as her second, Tapahonso blends the two languages in a harmony of memories, fiction, and poetry to explore the interconnectedness between common, everyday tasks and thousands of years of history.
4. There There by Tommy Orange
There There is the debut novel of Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange. Taking a brutally honest look at the struggles of urban Native populations, this multigenerational fictional story is inspired by Orange’s own experiences growing up in Oakland, California. The book follows 12 characters traveling to attend the Big Oakland Powwow, each with their own story and reasons for attending, and all somehow connected. Orange confronts the issues of identity, homeland, inherited trauma, and sanitized histories with both boldness and anger, but never forgets compassion, and through it all, leaves the reader with a lingering optimism.
5. Long Powwow Nights by David Bouchard and Pam Aleekuk
Through his work, poet, writer, and musician David Bouchard explores his heritage as a Métis Canadian. Illustrated by First Nations Mi’kmaq artist Leonard Paul and featuring both English and Mi’kmaq text, Long Powwow Nights tells the story of a mother’s efforts to impart on her child the importance of their cultural identity.
6. Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
Deemed an “at-risk” youth by foster care workers during her childhood on the Seabird Island First Nation reservation in British Columbia, Terese Marie Mailhot survived a tumultuous upbringing which she works through in her memoir, Heart Berries. Don’t let this sweet title fool you — while her nonfiction narrative comes in at under 200 pages, it imparts an emotional wallop on even the most prepared of readers. But, as a Nlaka’pamux woman, Mailhot refuses to feel lost, and her memoir serves as both a reminder and exclamation for future generations — we’re still here.
7. Power by Linda Hogan
Through her signature lyrical prose, Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan explores the conflicts between two different worlds and contrasting ways of life in her novel Power. A member of a (fictional) Floridan tribe of dwindling numbers, sixteen-year-old Omishto straddles the line between her tribe’s traditional beliefs and the more Westernized ways of her mother. When her Aunt Ama hunts and kills a panther — an animal sacred to their tribe — the following events threaten to destroy their community.
8. Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend Of Betrayal, Courage And Survival by Velma Wallis
A writer of Gwich'in Athabascan descent, Velma Wallis’ novel is based on the Athabascan legend of two old women abandoned by their tribe. Considered burdensome and left behind in the harsh winter wilderness, eighty-year-old Ch'idzigyaak and seventy-five-year-old Sa' must learn to work together to survive. Wallis transforms this traditional oral tale passed down through generations into print form and the result is a moving, inspirational story about community, forgiveness, and determination.
If you’re interested in learning more about North American Indigenous cultures, Mango Languages is proud to offer our Cherokee language course — developed alongside native speakers and supplemented with cultural insights, plus an introduction to the Cherokee syllabary. Click the link below to start learning today, or, choose one of over 70 other language courses to explore.
Who are your favorite Indigenous authors? Let us know in the comments below!