This fall, I’ve been thinking a lot about Indigenous rights. It is the four-year anniversary of the height of the Standing Rock protests, where almost 500 people were arrested over many months while protesting the construction an oil pipeline through sacred Native lands. This August, a study from the CDC found that Indigenous people are 3.5 times more likely to contract Covid-19, are disproportionately younger, and have more severe health outcomes than white people who contract Covid-19. On October 10th, President Trump signed Savanna’s Act into law, which will dedicate federal funds to new guidelines and training for reporting on missing and murdered Indigenous people. October 12th was Indigenous People’s Day, and November is National Native American Heritage Month. There’s been a lot going on!
Indigenous People’s Day and Native American Heritage Month are both great times to talk about representation. Indigenous People’s Day began as a direct rejection of Columbus Day, with the intent to take the focus from Columbus who had murdered, raped, and enslaved Indigenous people, and turn it to the struggle, history, and accomplishments of Indigenous groups. It was first celebrated in South Dakota in 1990, and has since grown to include more than ten states and one hundred cities, including the State of Oregon since 2017 (if you want to learn more about the history of Indigenous People’s Day, check out this article from Yes! Magazine). Native American Heritage Month began in 1990 with a proclamation from George H.W. Bush, then called National American Indian Heritage Month, and has been in November every year since 1994. It seeks to celebrate and recognize the traditions, cultures, and contributions made by Indigenous people in the United States, past and present. Both are meant as a time to celebrate their rich history as well as discuss current and future civil rights issues.
So how do we celebrate the history and educate ourselves on the rights and needs of Indigenous people? One way is to read Indigenous authors, even if they have been hard to find until recently. For many reasons, Indigenous authors have historically been rare, and authors published more than a few decades ago can be difficult to find. Part of this comes from the heavier importance placed on oral traditions in many Indigenous cultures, which has meant less written history, mythology, traditions, and stories by Indigenous people. The lack of representation in authorship and characters also comes in part from discrimination within the publishing industry. In 2015, for example, a study found that of 5,000 books, only 38 had an Indigenous main character and of those, only half were written by an Indigenous author. The good news though is that number has seen a lot of growth compared to some previous years, and has continued growing since. In 2020, Indigenous authors are still underrepresented, but they are making headway and there are many new authors available to read.
And the even better news is there’s a growth of Indigenous authors in all genres, from nonfiction to fantasy to romance! If you’d like to learn more about Indigenous cultures, history, chiefs and other important figures, consider nonfiction like An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. If you’d rather read an issue-based fiction book that puts the reader in the shoes of an Indigenous character, consider There There by Tommy Orange. Or if you want to read more from Indigenous authors but really love genre fiction like sci-fi, consider Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. And if none of those sound good to you, check out this list for more recommendations!