By Chad Valdez (Diné, CS Writer in Residence)
Storytelling is an Indigenous way of knowing. Stories are vehicles for passing down knowledge that contains history, wisdom, lessons, moral guides, and more. It is a way to keep the community strong. I grew up surrounded in stories but it took some time before I learned how to listen to them. Once I did, I realized how encompassed we are in them. We can find stories in every facet of our lives, but books are one of the strongest avenues to finding exceptional and engrossing ones. The authors listed below, and most Indigenous writers, understand this deeply. The circular nature of understanding that comes with storytelling is present in each of these. The books present are my recommendations and have all been published since the beginning of the last Native American Heritage Month in November of 2022. These are new stories from both established authors and those who are making their debut. It is important to support Indigenous literature so that our stories never go unheard. These stories have a range that includes horror, history, magic, loss, and much more. Though however far the range of them goes, they are all written with an Indigenous background and perspective that furthers the resilience and strength of our people, and that strength will continue to grow as long as we keep telling our stories.
1. Never Whistle at Night
By Shane Hawk (Cheyenne-Arapaho/Hidatsa/Potawatomi) and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. (Mackinac Bands of Chippewa/Ottawa)
The horrors Indigenous Peoples have faced can only be rivaled by the survival and resilience told to us through stories. Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. have gathered together a stacked set of Indigenous authors to bring us frightening stories that prove these are modern master storytellers who understand the importance of interlacing culture and history with horror and resistance. The horrors vary in this collection from killers, monsters, and even to a look at one’s self, and each has been carefully made with the author’s cultural aspects in place. As the title suggests, many Indigenous Peoples are told not to whistle at night as it can bring about evil. After reading this collection, readers will be sure to keep quiet in the dark.
2. Sisters of the Lost Nation
By Nick Medina (Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana)
Violence against Indigenous women is a widespread issue across the world. Statistics show an alarming problem that receives virtually no help from government or law enforcement entities. Red hands cover faces to symbolize the voices that go unheard. Nick Medina puts this problem at the forefront of his novel. A young Native girl living on her reservation is seeing firsthand other girls going missing while at the same time being haunted by an ancient tribal myth. She must search for the answers in the stories, something many Indigenous people do themselves. Medina mixes the old with the contemporary and the horror with the thriller.
3. The Storyteller
By Brandon Hobson (Cherokee)
Brandon Hobson tackles issues plaguing Indigenous Peoples through the lens of a young Cherokee boy. A young adult novel with a focus on the power of storytelling, Ziggy not only has to deal with the hardships of growing up but also with the disappearance of his mother. Banning together with his sister and friends, he sets out to find answers and in doing so learns that the stories and storytellers of his people have all the answers he needs. Brandon Hobson understands the need for young adult literature and uses his storytelling skills to engage a younger audience while at the same time teaching the value of learning the stories of one’s own people.
4. The Missing Morningstar: And Other Stories
By Stacie Shannon Denetsosie (Diné)
A collection that values the concept of beauty in the way Diné people understand it, Denetsosie gives us an array of stories in her debut book. Readers see the contemporary experience of Diné people through these different stories that range from a man riding in a hearse with the spirit of his grandfather to a woman speaking to her daughter through Amazon’s Alexa. Filled with poetic language that grasps the reader, this is an important collection that must be read to understand the experiences of Indigenous people living in today’s world.
5. Don’t Fear the Reaper
By Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet)
Stephen Graham Jones has built an impressive library of work over the past years and is solidifying his spot among the greatest horror writers working today. The second book in the Indian Lake trilogy series, this novel is the sequel to the best-selling book My Heart is a Chainsaw. Continuing the story of Jade Daniels, slasher extraordinaire, she returns to her town of Proofrock, Idaho after serving four years in prison. At the same time, an Indigenous serial killer escapes his own prison sentence to terrorize the town of Proofrock. With bodies dropping quickly, readers will just as quickly be hooked by the expert pacing of Jones. The trilogy is an homage to slasher films and will conclude with the final novel releasing soon, The Angel of Indian Lake.
By Cherie Dimaline (Métis)
A magical book, Dimaline sets both her protagonist and readers on a journey filled with witches, magical spoons, witch hunters, and more. Lucky St. James has it hard, a rough familial past and a chance she’ll soon be evicted, she then finds a spoon in the walls imbued with magic. From there, she discovers a whole new world of witches that have been waiting for her and the spoons to come together and unite them all. She’s not the last one however, one spoon is missing and she and the other witches must set out in search of it while being chased by witch hunter, Jay Christos. It is a novel with a heavy theme of feminism and fighting against patriarchy, but at the same time, it never loses the fun nature of these witches finally coming together.
7. Bad Cree
By Jessica Johns (Cree)
Mackenzie, a young Cree woman, has dreams that include a crow’s head in her hand, her dead sister, and a memory of her family camping near a lake. Readers are introduced to these nightmares from the beginning and the tone that Johns sets up never falters. When the nightmares begin to get closer to reality and a murder of crows begins to follow Mackenzie, she knows she must return to the family she separated from to find the answers she needs to heal. A range of themes fill the novel: familial hardship, grief, colonialism, and reconnection to culture. These all work in conjunction to follow a woman who must confront the past. With a push on the importance of dreams to Indigenous people, readers will have no trouble following the protagonist on her journey.
8. White Horse
By Erika T. Wurth (Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee)
Haunted by her mother's spirit, Kari James is an Urban Native with a love for Stephen King and dive bars, particularly one in Denver, CO named White Horse. Setting out on a journey for answers, Kari must come to terms with her past and her family while also dealing with the relationships in her life. Filled with ghosts of all aspects, Wurth writes with grit and smoke that chokes and scratches at readers to get closer. While raw in nature, it is also a journey of self-discovery and healing that Indigenous people know all too well.
9. Swim Home to the Vanished
By Brendan Shay Basham (Diné)
With a basis in understanding the history of Diné oppression as well as Diné stories of creation and its people, Basham presents a story of how one deals with grief. Damien, a cook in a small town, loses his brother under mysterious circumstances. Not knowing how to handle the loss, he leaves south until he can go no further, and comes across a small fishing village. Settling there for the moment, he soon becomes involved in the drama of a family also dealing with loss. The magical realism interlaced throughout the novel sets the reader firmly in place in this village. Basham writes with force and a clear background in poetry, never losing sight of this being a Diné story.
10. To Shape a Dragon’s Breath
By Moniquill Blackgoose (Seaconke Wampanoag)
Set in 1800s New England in an alternate timeline, readers are dropped into a world with fantasy elements and Indigenous Peoples living in a world that is being colonized. The protagonist, an Indigenous girl named Anequs, comes upon a dragon egg and bonds to the newborn animal. Wanting to use her traditional upbringing and teachings to raise the dragon, she is instead enrolled in a colonized dragon school that goes against what her people have taught her. Blackgoose shows readers the fundamental differences between the two Peoples and mirrors the reality of colonization in a beautifully crafted world. Readers will get lost in the vivid imagination of Blackgoose and will soon want to return to the world of Anequs and her people.
11. The Rediscovery of America
By Ned Blackhawk (Te-Moak)
Most history books exclude the experiences of Indigenous people. When they are included, it is most likely a white-washed version told from the perspective of colonizers. Ned Blackhawk retells the history of the nation with Indigenous people at the forefront. Native Americans were integral to the shaping of modern America and readers are set on a journey through time that showcases the strength and resilience of different tribal nations. A finalist for the 2023 National Book Award in Nonfiction, this is an important book that gets closer to the true accounts of the way America has evolved.