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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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The Best Native Books Of 2019
by Ryan Winn - Tribal College Journal

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 Year’s resolution, we’re entering the time of year when stories hold a special place in our lives. For many of us, this means short days and cold nights—time we’d like to pass lost in narratives that entertain, challenge, and inspire us. We’re also entering a sacred time celebrated by holiday gift giving. On the precipice of these dual seasons, I’d 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 Andromeda’s second coming. Fans of the original will appreciate that the novel is rife with pulse-pounding plot, while all will love that Wilson’s 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 America’s 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 Parenteau’s performance lends depth to Treuer’s 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 landscape.

Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s by Tiffany Midge is cornucopia of literary brilliance. The Standing Rock Sioux writer’s 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 Midge’s astute observations. Every entry is so well-crafted that the only disappointment you’ll find is when you realize you’ve 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 game—they’re 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 who’ve 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 World’s 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, Wyoming’s 1908 Frontier Days. Unbeknownst to their contemporaries, Hawaii had cultivated cattle for generations, and Wolman and Smith chronicle the generations-long journey to the world’s largest rodeo held in the “Holy City of the Cow.” This book does more than flip the script on the cowboy-competition narratives—it 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 Press.

Crichton, M., & Wilson, D.H. (2019). The Andromeda Evolution. [digital audiobook]. New York: Harper Audio.

Midge, T. (2019). Bury My Heart at Chucky Cheese’s. 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 Audio.

Van Camp, R. (2019). Moccasin Square Garden. Vancouver, Canada: Douglas & McIntyre.

Wolman, D., & Smith, J. (2019). Aloha Rodeo: Three Hawaiian Cowboys, the World’s Greatest Rodeo, and a Hidden History of the American West. [digital audiobook]. New York: Harper Audio.

Editor’s 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.

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