Winter is a time for storytelling. Whether conversing with friends
around a crackling fire, curling up with a book on a cozy couch,
or jogging with earbuds while keeping a New Years resolution,
were entering the time of year when stories hold a special
place in our lives. For many of us, this means short days and cold
nightstime wed like to pass lost in narratives that
entertain, challenge, and inspire us. Were also entering a
sacred time celebrated by holiday gift giving. On the precipice
of these dual seasons, Id like to highlight some of the best
Native books published this past year. I implore you all to acquire,
consume, and share them with others.
The Andromeda Evolution by Michael Crichton and Daniel H.
Wilson is a sequel 52 years in the making, yet powerful enough to
stand on its own. In 1967, the late, great Crichton published the
terrifying science fiction novel The Andromeda Strain about an invasive
alien particle threatening to wipe out the planet. Bestselling Cherokee
author Daniel H. Wilson updates the narrative, writing about how
advanced meddling caused the dormant Andromedas second coming.
Fans of the original will appreciate that the novel is rife with
pulse-pounding plot, while all will love that Wilsons homage
is equally character-driven. The audiobook is read by the gifted
Julia Whelton who heightens the edge-of-your-seat action.
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the
Present by David Treuer vehemently opposes the practice of discussing
Indian people and their cultures in the past tense. Treuer (Ojibwe)
relays the trials and struggles of Americas first citizens
in every region of the United States, but the accounts of injustice
are coupled with evidence of individual and tribal persistence.
Audiobook reader Tanis Parenteaus performance lends depth
to Treuers interwoven interviews with contemporary Native
ranchers, woodland gatherers, and ambassadors for healthy well-being
in tribal communities. What this magnum opus makes clear is that
despite numerous false narratives and perpetuated misconceptions,
the pulsing heartbeat of Indian people endures throughout the American
Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheeses by Tiffany Midge
is cornucopia of literary brilliance. The Standing Rock Sioux writers
wickedly funny autobiography offers laugh-out-loud passages alongside
compassionate profiles, bitter sarcasm, and heartbreaking chronicles.
Each of the memoirs are short yet potent, compelling the reader
to continue while paradoxically causing one to pause to reflect
on Midges astute observations. Every entry is so well-crafted
that the only disappointment youll find is when you realize
youve read them all. Then again, this is a book that demands
to be reread.
Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Reservation
by Michael Powell follows the Chinle High School boys team
as it aspires for state championship glory. The young men are wise
in the finer points of rez ball, but their decorated coach and retired
guidance counselor, Raul Mendoza, helps them embody discipline for
both the game they love and their aspirations beyond the court.
Powell captures the hopes and fears of his subjects, affirming that
sports are more than just a gametheyre a proving ground,
a motivating factor, and an escape from the hardships of generational
trauma. Narrator Darrell Denis (Secwepemc Nation) breathes depth
into the audiobook version, giving life to the lives beyond the
passages Powell so beautifully captures.
Moccasin Square Gardens by Richard Van Camp is a collection
of wildly diverse, yet interconnected short stories set in Fort
Smith, Ontario. A member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) tribe, Van Camp
has an ear for crafting dialogue, an astuteness for chronicling
humanity, and a knack for evoking laughter and horror in a single
passage. Van Camp is an extraordinary writer who is equally at home
sharing curious courtship practices, illegal wrestling moves, arrested
development, and Wheetago invasions. This book is a testament that
his work should be required reading for both college courses and
veracious bibliophiles who want to spend time lost in the words
of a true master.
Cooper Yearning by Kimberly Blaeser is a poetry collection
that reminds us of the wonders of the natural environment and what
it means to be a human living amongst them. Equally fluent in poetic
stylings and cathartic crescendos, the White Earth Anishinaabe writer
immerses her readers in a world where English and Anishinaabemowin
comingle, inviting us to think about the depth in bodies of water,
the ache felt for those whove passed on, the necessity of
protecting treaty rights against the invaders at Standing Rock,
and the sweet kinship one finds in eating gas station junk food
while on a long road trip. Blaeser is a multifaceted artist, and
within the covers of this collection is all the evidence one needs
to affirm why the former Poet Laureate of Wisconsin is one of the
most interesting and lyrically gifted Native poets publishing today.
Aloha Rodeo: Three Hawaiian Cowboys, the Worlds Greatest
Rodeo, and a Hidden History of the American West by David Wolman
and Julian Smith tells the story of how three Hawaiian ropers made
history in Cheyenne, Wyomings 1908 Frontier Days. Unbeknownst
to their contemporaries, Hawaii had cultivated cattle for generations,
and Wolman and Smith chronicle the generations-long journey to the
worlds largest rodeo held in the Holy City of the Cow.
This book does more than flip the script on the cowboy-competition
narrativesit affirms why the list of the best Native athletes
has the name Ikua Purdy firmly etched on it. The audiobook, read
by Kaleo Griffith, hums with the names and vernacular of the ranchers
island homeland, creating a listening experience not to be missed.
Winter is a time for storytelling. A time for sharing words that
make us appreciate those who have come before, think about the generations
yet to come, and cherish those whose very presence is our lives
is a gift worth celebrating. May the words of these writers make
your storytelling season richer and compel you to share the power
of Native narratives with the people you treasure.
Ryan Winn teaches in the Liberal Studies Department at College
of Menominee Nation.
Blaeser, K. (2019). Copper Yearning. Duluth, MN: Holy Cow
Crichton, M., & Wilson, D.H. (2019). The Andromeda Evolution.
[digital audiobook]. New York: Harper Audio.
Midge, T. (2019). Bury My Heart at Chucky Cheeses.
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Powell, M. (2019). Canyon River Dreams. [digital audiobook].
New York: Penguin Audio.
Treuer, D. (2019). The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America
from 1890 to the Present [digital audiobook]. New York: Penguin
Van Camp, R. (2019). Moccasin Square Garden. Vancouver,
Canada: Douglas & McIntyre.
Wolman, D., & Smith, J. (2019). Aloha Rodeo: Three Hawaiian
Cowboys, the Worlds Greatest Rodeo, and a Hidden History of
the American West. [digital audiobook]. New York: Harper Audio.
Editors note: The opinions expressed in the Inquisitive
Academic or any other opinion columns published by the Tribal College
Journal (TCJ) do not necessarily reflect the opinions of TCJ or
the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.