As we approach the end of 2022, many of us are more than ready for some self-care. This might look like unwinding with entertainment that also expands your perspective. With November being Native American Heritage Month, we want to recognize some of the creative contributions from (or about) the Indigenous community. Whether you’re lounging at home, waiting in long airport lines, or taking a road trip for the holidays, check out some of our favorite Indigenous-centered content for you to stream, listen to, or check out over the coming weeks.
TV & MOVIES
Reservation Dogs (Hulu)
From Co-Creators and Executive Producers Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, “Reservation Dogs” is a half-hour comedy show that follows the exploits of four Indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma who steal, rob, and save in order to get to the exotic, mysterious, and faraway land of California. We love it because it centers Native People both behind and in front of the camera, giving the viewer a slice of life on the rez that brings both laughter and understanding.
Rutherford Falls (Peacock)
Two lifelong best friends, Nathan Rutherford and Reagan Wells, find themselves at a crossroads — quite literally — when their sleepy town gets an unexpected wake-up call. We love it for the same reasons we love “Reservation Dogs,” and it has the added benefit of featuring an Indigenous woman as its protagonist.
Indian Horse (Netflix)
An adaptation of Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese’s award-winning novel, this moving and important drama sheds light on the dark history of Canada’s Indigenous Residential Schools and the indomitable spirit of aboriginal people. “Indian Horse” stars Canadian newcomers Sladen Peltier and Edna Manitowabi, as well as Ajuawak Kapashesit (“Indian Road Trip,” “Once Upon a River”), Forrest Goodluck (“The Revenant,” “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”), Michael Murphy (“Away From Her”), Michael Lawrenchuck (“Tokyo Cowboy”), Johnny Issaluk (“Two Lovers and a Bear”) and Michiel Huisman (“The Age of Adaline”).
We should point out that the topic of residential schools has finally been acknowledged by the larger culture recently — and it’s long past due — because of the discovery of mass graves. This content can be triggering, and sadly, the truth is that most children who were sent to these schools did not find a way out through hockey, as this story’s protagonist does.
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (PBS)
While this film isn’t made by Indigenous People, it is a loving account of the significant Native American influence in modern music. We love a good celebration of Indigenous art and culture — and many folks may not know just how much the modern musical landscape owes to Indigenous People.
“Rumble” traces the melodies, rhythms, and beats of traditional Native music as they took different forms across the spectrum of 20th-century American rock. Native Americans such as Robbie Robertson and Buffy Sainte-Marie helped to define its evolution, while Native guitarists and drummers such as Link Wray (the electric guitar pioneer whose titular instrumental hit was banned from the radio), Hall of Famer Jimi Hendrix (who was part-Cherokee), Jesse Ed Davis, and many more forever changed the trajectory of rock and roll. Their stories are told by some of America’s greatest rock legends who knew them, played music with them, and were inspired by them, including George Clinton, Taj Mahal, Slash, Jackson Browne, Taboo, Buddy Guy, Quincy Jones, Derek Trucks, Tony Bennett, Iggy Pop, Steven Tyler, and Stevie Van Zandt.
The second season of This Land, hosted by Cherokee journalist Rebecca Nagle, is a timely exposé about how the far right is using Native children to quietly dismantle American Indian tribes and advance a conservative agenda. ALM – as referred to in court documents – is a Navajo and Cherokee toddler. When he was a baby, a white couple from the suburbs of Dallas wanted to adopt him, but a federal law said they couldn’t. The Brackeens’ case would have been a normal adoption dispute, but then one of the most powerful corporate law firms in the United States took it on and helped the couple launch a federal lawsuit. Today, the lawsuit doesn’t just impact the future of one child, or even the future of one law. It threatens the entire legal structure defending Native American rights.
All My Relations
All My Relations is a podcast hosted by Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip), Desi Small Rodriguez (Northern Cheyenne), and Dr. Adrienne Keene (Cherokee) that explores our relationships to land, to our relatives, both human and non-human, and to one another. Each episode invites guests to delve into a different topic facing Native peoples today. As the hosts put it, they keep it real, play some games, laugh a lot, and even cry sometimes.
Our Native Land
Join podcast host Tchadas Leo as he explores all things Indigenous and First Nations. Our Native Land features fun interviews and compelling discussions about Indigenous and First Nations cuisine, culture, heritage, and more from Vancouver Island and around the world. Recorded at CHEK Studios in Victoria, BC, Leo is joined by guests of all backgrounds and professions for educational, emotional, and engaging conversations.
Rez Life by David Treuer
With authoritative research and reportage, Treuer illuminates misunderstood contemporary issues like sovereignty, treaty rights, and natural-resource conservation. He traces the convoluted waves of public policy that have deracinated, disenfranchised, and exploited Native Americans, exposing the tension and conflict that has marked the historical relationship between the United States government and the Native American population. Through the eyes of students, teachers, government administrators, lawyers, and tribal court judges, he shows how casinos, tribal government, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have transformed the landscape of Native American life.
A member of the Ojibwe of northern Minnesota, Treuer grew up on the Leech Lake Reservation, but was educated in “mainstream” America. Treuer traverses the boundaries of American and Indian identity as he explores crime and poverty, casinos and wealth, and the preservation of his native language and culture. “Rez Life” is a strikingly original work of history and reportage, a must-read for anyone interested in the Native American story. Also available in audio format.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, adapted by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt
Drawing on her life as an Indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings ― asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass ― offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return. Also available in audio format.
There There by Tommy Orange
Tommy Orange’s wondrous and shattering novel follows 12 characters from Native communities, all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize. Among them is Jacquie Red Feather, newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and working at the powwow to honor his memory. Fourteen-year-old Orvil is coming to perform traditional dance for the very first time. Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American — grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism. Hailed as an instant classic, “There There” is at once poignant and unflinching, utterly contemporary and truly unforgettable. Also available in audio format.
Native American DNA by Kim TallBear
Who is a Native American? And who gets to decide? With genealogists searching online for their ancestors to fortune hunters hoping for a slice of casino profits from wealthy tribes, the book explores how answers to these seemingly straightforward questions have profound ramifications. The rise of DNA testing has further complicated the issues and raised the stakes.
In “Native American DNA,” Kim TallBear shows how DNA testing is a powerful — and problematic — scientific process that is useful in determining close biological relatives. But tribal membership is a legal category that has developed in dependence on certain social understandings and historical contexts, a set of concepts that entangles genetic information in a web of family relations, reservation histories, tribal rules, and government regulations. At a larger level, TallBear asserts, the “markers” that are identified and applied to specific groups such as Native American tribes bear the imprints of the cultural, racial, ethnic, national, and even tribal misinterpretations of the humans who study them. Also available in audio format.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
Soon to become a major motion picture directed by Martin Scorcese and starring Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio, the book is a sympathetic, can’t-put-it-down exploration of what happened when the Osage People of what is now called Nebraska became some of the world’s richest after securing the mineral rights to one of Turtle Island’s most productive oil deposits. Spoiler alert: It didn’t end well for most. Part murder mystery, part origin story, and 100% a terrific read. Also available in audio format.
Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria, Jr.
“Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto” is a work of nonfiction published in 1969 by the lawyer, professor, and writer Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux). The book was noteworthy for its relevance to the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement and other activist organizations, such as the American Indian Movement, which was beginning to expand. Deloria’s book encouraged better use of federal funds aimed at helping Native Americans. Deloria presents Native Americans in a humorous light, devoting an entire chapter to Native American humor. “Custer Died for Your Sins” was significant in its presentation of Native Americans as a people who were able to retain their tribal society and morality, while existing in the modern world. Also available in audio format.
Lessons from Turtle Island by Guy Jones & Sally Moomaw
This one is an essential for teachers interested in eliminating stereotyping in early education classrooms. “Lessons from Turtle Island” is the first complete guide to exploring Native American issues with children. The authors — one Native, one white, both educators — show ways to incorporate authentic learning experiences about Native Americans into your curriculum. This book is organized around five cross-cultural themes: children, home, families, community, and the environment. The authors present activities from children’s books they recommend to develop skills in reading, writing, science, math, make-believe, art, and more. The book provides helpful guidelines and resource lists for selecting appropriate toys, children’s books, music, and art, and also includes a family heritage project. “[A] marvelous tool that should be in every American school.” — Joseph Bruchac
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Today in the United States, there are more than 500 federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly 3 million people, descendants of the 15 million Native people who once inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocidal program of the U.S. settler-colonial regimen has largely been omitted from history. Now, for the first time, acclaimed historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz offers a history of the United States told from the perspective of Indigenous peoples and reveals how Native Americans, for centuries, actively resisted expansion of the U.S. empire.
In “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States,” Dunbar-Ortiz adroitly challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the Indigenous peoples was colonialist and designed to seize the territories of the original inhabitants, displacing or eliminating them.
What is fresh about the book is its comprehensiveness. Dunbar-Ortiz brings together every indictment of white Americans that has been cast upon them over time, and she does so by raising intelligent new questions about many of the current trends of academia, such as multiculturalism. Dunbar-Ortiz’s material succeeds, but will be eye-opening to those who have not previously encountered such a perspective. (Excerpted from a review by Birchbark Books) Also available in audio format.
I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland
When 8-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school, she’s confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the nuns who are in charge at the school. They tell her that she is not to use her own name, but instead use the number they have assigned to her.
When she goes home for summer holidays, Irene’s parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again. But where will they hide? And what will happen when her parents disobey the law? Based on the life of co-author Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother, “I Am Not a Number” is a hugely necessary book that brings a terrible part of Canada’s history to light in a way that children can learn from and relate to.
Encounter by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Shannon (Ages 6+)
This is the story of Columbus’ landing in the Americas, as told by a boy of the Taino people who already lived there. With the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage coming up, Yolen says her editor suggested such a book was needed. “I thought a Taino should write it. After doing some early research, I felt the likelihood of any full-blooded Taino people to be still alive was not great and the story needed to be told. So I said I would do it. The book was the only one in that anniversary year to speak for the Taino people in a picture book edition. It still is. There is an exchange about this book between James C. Juhnke and me in the Spring 1993 issue of The New Advocate (Vol. 6, No. 4). In 1996, Harcourt printed a Spanish edition, Encuentro, translated by the indefatigable Alma Flor Ada. In 2000, a French edition was published under the imprint Carre Blanc, Les 400 Coups.”
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Jean Mendoza, and Debbie Reese
Going beyond the story of America as a country “discovered” by a few brave men in the “New World,” Indigenous human rights advocate Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz reveals the roles that settler colonialism and policies of American Indian genocide played in forming our national identity. The original academic text is fully adapted by renowned curriculum experts Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza for middle-grade and young adult readers to include discussion topics, archival images, original maps, recommendations for further reading, and other materials to encourage students, teachers, and general readers to think critically about their own place in history.
Visit lakotalaw.org to learn more about Lakota People’s Law Project.
Last modified: November 11, 2022