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These best books about Native Americans offer a much-needed platform for voices often silenced in American literature and history.

The list includes both fiction Native American literature and non-fiction Native American books I have personally read and recommend, as well as a few books I haven’t gotten to yet but are VERY highly regarded in the space.

there there by tommy orange in front of bookcase.

Top Pick

TOP PICK

Wondering what to read for Native American Heritage Month? If you are struggling to pick one book, I recommend There There, the recently popular and mega award-winning novel that tells the story of many different modern Native Americans living in Oakland, California, whose lives converge at a pow-wow. (I loved it too and still often think about it years later.)

Quick List

First, if you’re extra curious or in a rush, below is a quick, shoppable list of all the books that made the list.

Details on All the Best Books About Native Americans

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

National Book Award Winner

I included The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on this list to shed light on it as an award-winning book that is, today, one of the most commonly “banned books” in U.S. schools.

Junior is a young cartoonist on an Indian Reservation when he begins attending an all-white farm town high school off the Reservation. The only other Indian? The mascot.

It’s a coming-of-age story of Native American identity and finding yourself, and it’s filled with Junior’s artwork as well.


Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

  • A 2021 Kids’ Indie Next List selection
  • An Amazon Best Book of the Month for March selection
  • An Entertainment Weekly Most Anticipated Books of 2021 selection
  • PopSugar Best March 2021 YA Book

In the extremely popular Firekeeper’s Daughter, a Reese’s Young Adult Book Club pick, eighteen-year-old Daunis is an outsider in her hometown and the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She plans on making a fresh start at college, but she puts this on hold when a family tragedy strikes.

Meanwhile, she starts to fall for the new member of her brother’s hockey team. When she witnesses the tragic murder of a friend, she realizes he may not be who she thought and is thrown into the heart of an FBI investigation of a very lethal new drug. She calls this “guy lies” — something she has become used to experiencing.

Daunis agrees to go undercover to track down the source, but doing so continually puts her in harm’s way and exposes shocking family secrets.

In this universally beloved suspense with a social conscience, she must learn what it means to be a strong Ojibwe woman.


Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

  • New York Times bestseller
  • National Book Award finalist
  • New York Times Notable Book
  • Named a best book of the year by Amazon, Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, GQ, Time, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly, Time Magazine, NPR, Vogue, Smithsonian, Cosmopolitan, Seattle Times, Bloomberg, Lit Hub, and Slate

Killers of the Flower Moon is one of the best Native American non-fiction books, and it’s a true crime story that will shock you. During the 1920s, the richest people in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered under their land, the Osage lived largely.

Then, one by one, the members of the Osage Nation died — or, rather, were killed off. And the family of one Osage woman became a prime target: one was shot; another was poisoned. And that’s only the beginning, as more and more Osage died under mysterious circumstances. What’s more, is that many of those who investigated the deaths were themselves murdered.

The newly created FBI took on the case, and former Texas Ranger Tom White tried to uncover the mystery. With an undercover team, including a Native American agent, they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies against Native Americans in history.


The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

  • Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for fiction
  • New York Times bestseller
  • Washington Post, Amazon, NPR, CBS Sunday Morning, Kirkus, Chicago Public Library, AND Good Housekeeping Best Book of 2020

Based on the author’s grandfather, The Night Watchman is the story of Thomas, who worked as a night watchman in 1953 at the jewel-bearing plant near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota.

He is also a Chippewa Council member, trying to understand the new “emancipation” bill heading to the floor of Congress, whose members are actually fed up with Indians. The bill is really a threat to both their land and their identity.

Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Patrice, the class valedictorian, is an independent woman who makes jewel bearings at the plant, a job that barely supports her family. Her alcoholic father returns home and terrorizes them, while Patrice saves her pennies to find her older sister in Minneapolis. Along the way, Patrice’s journey introduces her to exploitation and violence.

In the same community as Thomas and Patrice also live a cast of memorable characters that highlight the emotions and desires of Native Americans.


The Removed by Brandon Hobson

A recommended book by: USA Today, O the Oprah Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Harper’s Bazaar, Buzzfeed, Washington Post, Elle, Parade, San Francisco Chronicle, Good Housekeeping, Vulture, Refinery29, AARP, Kirkus, PopSugar, Alma, Woman’s Day, Chicago Review of Books, The Millions, Biblio Lifestyle, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, LitHub 

In The Removed, it’s been fifteen years since teenager Ray-Ray was killed in a police shooting, during which his family has privately grieved. What’s more is that his mother, Maria, is struggling to manage her husband, Ernest’s, Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, their adult daughter, Sonja, lives in solitude, and their son, Edgar, fled home and turned to drugs.

The annual family bonfire is approaching on both the Cherokee National Holiday and the anniversary of Ray-Ray’s death, and it will give them an opportunity to memorialize Ray-Ray. But, instead, they each feel the boundaries between normal life and the spirit world are blurring, as major events occur in each of their lives.

The Removed is a quick and immersive read that draws from Cherokee folklore to explore the long-standing effects of trauma and grief for each unique family member, and the meaning of home that binds them.


The Round House by Louise Erdrich

  • Winner of the National Book Award
  • Washington Post Best Book of the Year
  • New York Times Notable Book

In The Round House, a woman living on a North Dakotan reservation is attacked in Spring 1988. She’s slow to reveal the details to the police, her husband, or her son, because she is so traumatized. Her son tries desperately to heal her, but she refuses to leave her bed. So, he is thrust prematurely into the adult world.

His father, a tribal judge, endeavors for justice, while Joe sets out with his trusted friends, to get his own answers. This leads them to the Round House, a sacred place of worship for the Ojibwe. But that’s only the beginning of this mysterious coming-of-age novel with cultural themes.


The Sentence by Louise Erdich

New York Times bestseller

In The Sentence, Tookie is a Native American ex-convict who lands a job at a Minneapolis bookstore. From the span of All Souls’ Day 2019 to the next, a deceased customer haunts the bookstore, and, as COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement take place, modern Native American themes like identity and cultural appropriation are explored.


There There by Tommy Orange

  • Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
  • One of The New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
  • Winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award
  • One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, NPR, TimeO, The Oprah MagazineThe Dallas Morning News, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, BuzzFeed, San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe

… so much development had happened there, that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone, there was no there there anymore.

– There, There

There There is easily one of the best books about Native Americans. It’s modern literature that uniquely tells the plight of modern, urban Native Americans, particularly in Oakland, California, through the lens of over a dozen characters dealing with issues like identity, addiction, and grief. Their lives all interconnect and ultimately converge in a stunning and powerful finale at a pow-wow.

It’s about the lost identities of a group of people who suffered violence and injustices that were not fully appreciated in the eyes of history.

While you won’t be able to put this Native American literature book down at the end, you should be aware that this character-driven novel makes it very difficult to keep track of all of the characters and how their lives overlap. I started this book on audio, and while it was immersive and fascinating, it became too difficult for me to follow, so I picked up the paperback copy, and I would recommend you do the same if you read this book.


This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger

Instant New York Times bestseller

This Tender Land is also one of the best Native American fiction books. It reminded me of ways of literature like Huck Finn, Before We Were Yours, and Where the Crawdads Sing, amongst a Native American landscape.

It’s the story of a rag-tag group of vagabond children in the Summer of 1932, along the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River. Odie O’Banion and his brother Albert were orphans sent to the harsh confines of the Lincoln Indian Training School, forced to flee after a terrible crime. Along with their friend, a mute Native American named Mose, and a broken little girl named Emmy, they head on a string of adventures toward the Mississippi, determined to find their place in the world.

Along the way, they encounter struggling farmers, traveling faith healers, displaced families, and all kinds of lost souls.

While it’s not entirely a Native American story, it bears heavy Native American themes of violence and identity and is an incredibly epic adventure for truth and home on American soil that you won’t soon forget. It’s also one of the best books for men to read.


When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky by Margaret Verble

When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky is set in 1926 Nashville, and it follows Two Feathers, a young Cherokee horse-diver on loan to the Glendale Park Zoo from a Wild West show. Her closest friend, Hank Crawford, a member of a high-achieving a high-achieving, land-owning Black family, loves horses almost as much as she does. Neither fit into their highly segregated society.

When disaster strikes during one of Two’s shows, strange things start to happen at the park. Apparitions appear, and then the hippo falls mysteriously ill. Meanwhile, she bonds with Clive, the zookeeper and World War I veteran, haunted by his memories of war.

The entire staff must come together to get to the bottom of the lingering spirits on this story of friendship among exotic animals.


Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Winter Counts is a perfect Native American fiction book — a page-turning suspense novel about drug addiction on a Native American reservation, weaving into its thrills societal and Native American commentary.

Virgil Wounded Horse is the “enforcer” on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and when heroin use rises in the reservation and affects the life of his own nephew, he enlists his ex-girlfriend to track down the source of the drugs. Along the way, he realizes that being a modern Native American comes at an incredible cost.

Winter Counts was so addictive and easy to read, and I absolutely loved the audiobook version. It’s what I call a thriller with a social conscience, that will make you think long after turning the pages.


Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine 

  • National bestseller
  • One of the best books of the year named by Book Riot
  • Longlisted for the Joyce Carol Oates Prize
  • Longlisted for the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction

Woman of Light is a multigenerational saga of survival. After her brother leaves Denver on account of a violent white mob, Luz “Little Light” Lopez, a tea leaf reader and laundress, is alone during the 1930s.

Her visions take her to her Indigenous homeland, where her family rose and fell as Indigenous people. She keeps these stories and it’s up to her to preserve the memory of her loved ones.

Conclusion

These best books about Native Americans, including both fiction and non-fiction, showcase their history, culture, and spirituality. They not only provide insights into the struggles and triumphs of the indigenous peoples but also foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of their invaluable contributions to our shared history.

To recap and help you decide what to read, I don’t think you can’t go wrong with any of these books, but if you are struggling to pick just one, I personally recommend There There, the recently popular and mega award-winning novel that tells the story of many different modern Native Americans living in Oakland, California, whose lives converge at a pow-wow. And, I recommend you read it in print, as the numerous characters make it hard to follow on audio.

A few more books from this list that both I and readers generally really enjoyed are Winter Counts (a thriller) and Firekeeper’s Daughter (a Reese’s Young Adult Book Club pick). Lastly, Killers of the Flower Moon is always a popular pick, especially now that the movie adaptation has been released.

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4 Comments

  1. Do you have any recommendations for books, fiction or non fiction, about the lives of native americans before “the white man?” What were their lives like? What is their history and origin? I know it’s not as easy as one category “native americans.” There were hundreds and hundreds of tribes. I would like to read more.