To Read List: April 2018

Trying out a new popular format, the “to read list.” Here are a few books, some old and some new, that I’m looking forward to reading in the near future.

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1. Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead
“Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the “rez,” and his former life, to attend the funeral of his stepfather.”

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2. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
“While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters. Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope.”

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3. Calling Out After Slaughter by M. Carmen Lane
I couldn’t find an online description of this book, but I am reliably told that these poems by Mohawk, Tuscarora, and African-American Two-Spirit author M. Carmen Lane are amazing. Looking forward to getting into them soon.

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4. Nature Poem by Tommy Pico
“Nature Poem follows Teebs―a young, queer, American Indian (or NDN) poet―who can’t bring himself to write a nature poem. For the reservation-born, urban-dwelling hipster, the exercise feels stereotypical, reductive, and boring. He hates nature….But Teebs gradually learns how to interpret constellations through his own lens, along with human nature, sexuality, language, music, and Twitter.” I had the joy of hearing Tommy Pico read from this book at the Native American Literature Symposium, and I can’t wait to read the rest.

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5. Evil Dead Center by Carole laFavor
An Ojibwa woman has been found dead on the outskirts of the Minnesota Red Earth Reservation. The coroner ruled the death a suicide, but after some suggest foul play was involved, Renee LaRoche wants to prove otherwise, uncovering horrible truths and working through her own childhood issues to help shine a light on the dark web she has stumbled into.”

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Review: The Women’s Warrior Society

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Aaniin, long time no review! I’m sorry it’s been so long since I last posted, but I’m going to try to get a bit more involved here again. Today I’m going to review one of my favorite books, Lois Beardslee’s The Women’s Warrior Society.

This book, by Anishinaabe/Lacandon author Lois Beardsley, is marketed as “fiction,” but really it’s a genre-bending look into the lives of Anishinaabe ogichidaakweg–women warriors. Beardslee is from northern Michigan, which is also where my family is originally from, and everything she writes rings so incredibly true to me. Her voice swings from poetry to formal prose to northern Michigan/Anishinaabe dialect-inflected addresses pointed straight at the reader, sometimes all in the same chapter. It’s like hearing my aunties, if my aunties wrote poetry.

But the aunties in this book probably do write poetry–or at least, they know how to write about Indians when one of their nieces needs to finish her senior paper. Many, though not all, of the women in this book are college-educated (making this one of the few books to reflect my own experience as a college-educated Anishinaabe/kwe). Much of the book takes place in the library-turned-sweatlodge, where they plot against hateful individuals who seek to perpetuate stereotypes of Native people.

There’s a lot going on in this book, and maybe it could be described as a portrait of a community. There’s the repeating chorus of the many kinds of baby-stealers plaguing the Anishinaabe people. There are profiles of enemies and of heroines. There are long rants aimed at wannabe “Indians.” But Beardslee pulls it all together into something not just cohesive but beautiful.

There are a few things here and there that I am hesitant about, like the fact that the only explicitly butch woman has her gender expression directly tied to her hatred of Indians. Beardslee’s fierce combat against stereotypical depictions of Native people (such as those of Native people as alcoholics) can also sometimes seem like a rejection of people who are dealing with such issues. But overall, the book presents a really wide range of Native experiences and I think that helps temper some of these potential problems.

A powerful and uncategorizable book that I wish more people would read.

5 Books by Transgender Native Authors

While in recent years, there has been an increased recognition of Two-Spirit or LGBTQ Native people at large, within our communities transgender Native people (like myself) are still extremely marginalized. There are not a lot of trans Native authors out there, but here are a few that I know of!

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1. Trauma Queen 
by Lovemme Corazon (Luna Merbruja)
An incredible memoir by self-described Mexican and Athabascan healer and bruja, this book tells a story of life as a young transgender survivor of abuse. Corazon/Merbruja uses multiple genres such as prose, poetry, and diary entries to convey their incredible journey from birth to young adulthood.

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2. Redefining Realness 
by Janet Mock
Okay, so I already recommended this book. It’s worth recommending again though, as an eloquent depiction of the impressive life story of Janet Mock, who is now a successful author, editor, and TV host.

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3. Asegi Stories 
by Qwo-Li Driskill
This book may be academic, but it is an incredible resource and a groundbreaking work in its examination of Cherokee Two-Spirit history. Ranging in its examination from European documents from the 1500s to present-day interviews with Cherokee Two-Spirit people, Asegi Stories opens up all kinds of possibilities for the future of Two-Spirit histories.

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4. Passage 
by Gwen Benaway
Gwen Benaway’s second book of poetry is a breathtaking tour of the Great Lakes, filled with haunting images of ancestors, identity, and violence. Her words come in short, tight pairs of lines and stanzas, sparse and evocative at the same time, creating vivid pictures with few words.

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5. Rough Paradise 
by Alec Butler
Though Butler is more well-known for his plays, he has also published a novella, Rough Paradise, which tells the story of a young intersex person who finds acceptance and love with a girl named Darla. Together, they face the struggles of a heteronormative community that disapproves of their relationship and identity.

5 Books by Black Native Authors

I’m squeaking in here late for the last day of Black History Month to give you 5 books by authors of both African and Native American/Native Hawaiian/Alaska Native heritage. While many people often think of Native and Black Americans as separate groups, they have been interacting and forging relationships since 1492 (Columbus’s ships carried with them at least one African to the Americas). Those relationships have not always been positive–the history of the Freedmen and the Buffalo Soldiers come to mind–but they have resulted in a long history of mixed Black Native people, whose works I want to celebrate in this post.

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1. Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
One of the most well-known transgender authors in the US and beyond, Janet Mock (who is both African-American and Native Hawaiian) presents in this book her memoir of growing up as a Black and Indigenous transgender woman, as well as her path to where she is today as a successful journalist, editor, and activist.

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2. The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
This cult-classic story by Black and Ioway/Wampanoag author Jewelle Gomez is about a Black lesbian who becomes a vampire and lives through various key moments in history. Although I haven’t read it yet myself, I’m told it is a rich portrait of tenderness between women of color.

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3. That the Blood Stay Pure by Arica L. Coleman
This book is an incredibly astute history of racial politics in Virginia. Arica Coleman (Black and Rappahannock) examines what she calls “Virginia’s obsession with racial purity” and how it has affected Black and Indian relations in the state. One chapter I loved deals with the history of Mildred Loving, of the famous interracial marriage case, and her complex, changing identity as a woman of Black and Indian heritage.

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4. The Collected Works of Olivia Ward Bush-Banks edited by Bernice F. Guillaume
Olivia Ward Bush-Banks was a Black and Montaukett author who published in the early 20th century in many prominent venues for African-Americans, helping several famous artists of the Harlem Renaissance get their start. She also served as the Montaukett tribal historian for some years. This book collects her plays, poetry, articles, and letters.

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5. Blues Divine by Storme Webber
Described by the Black/Aleut/Choctaw author as “an ancestral mixtape,” this book draws heavily on Webber’s family background and on her Two-Spirit identity. It is also available for download as audio, which is well worth it to hear Webber’s smooth delivery of the flowing, almost stream-of-consciousness-style poems.

Review: Weweni

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In the spirit of Indigenous traditions of recounting your relations, I feel I should state upfront that Margaret Noodin, author of Weweni: Poems in Anishinaabemowin and English, was my Ojibwe teacher for a semester in college, and continues to be someone who I know and respect greatly. I would recommend Weweni to anyone regardless of that connection, however.

In her short introduction, Noodin notes that the poems in this book were written first in Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwe language) and then translated loosely into English as “lyric explanations.” Weweni is probably the first and maybe the only book of such poetry (a few other books have since been published of English poems translated into Ojibwe). As a language learner, I have poured over these poems, pronouncing the Ojibwe out loud and breaking it apart into pieces of words, comparing the originals to their English versions. Even if you don’t know the language, Noodin helpfully provides a basic pronunciation guide to help you try to sound things out, and it’s worth it. Poems like “Giizis Gizhookawaan / Warmed by the Sun” are especially worth listening to for their alliteration and rhythm.

As for the poems themselves, the best way to describe them is, in my opinion, to say they have, indeed, been written weweni. In Ojibwe, weweni is an adverb that is quite complex but might be translated as “carefully,” or even “full of care,” to emphasize it even further. The poems reflect the Ojibwe philosophy of mino-bimaadiziwin, living a good life, in their invocations of relations both human and other-than-human: daughters, grandparents, aunties, trees, stars, rabbits,  ghosts, thunderbirds. They work to remind us of the connections between all beings and our obligations to them.

Weweni thus also articulates a powerful Anishinaabe worldview that truly encompasses the entire world. In three intriguing poems–“Aloha – Aaniin,” “Dine Aki,” and “Aabita Waasa”–Noodin positions herself relative to other non-Ojibwe Indigenous people (Hawaiian, Navajo, and Guarani people respectively) and while she carefully respects their sovereignty, she also shows how Anishinaabewiwin (roughly, Anishinaabe-ness) continues to have meaning beyond Anishinaabe territorial bounds and beyond the realm of what is considered “typical” for Indian or Anishinaabe people. At times, Noodin even translates English quotes into Ojibwe, further establishing the expansive domain of Anishinaabewiwin and the fact that Ojibwe is in fact a full-fledged language that can do anything any other “world language” can do.

Above all, these poems feel nourishing and full of life. They are also inspirational for Anishinaabeg and other speakers of minority/endangered languages, showing the value of literature even in such difficult straits. I strongly suspect that Weweni is a collection that we will be returning to for a long time. I can certainly say that I will be.

Review: Night Flying Woman

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Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative tells the story of Ojibwe elder Ignatia Broker’s great-great-grandmother Ni-bo-wi-se-gwe (also known as Oona). Born in the mid-1800s and living until the 1930s, Oona experienced the enormous changes that affected Ojibwe people in Minnesota due to white invasion and settlement. The book begins with Oona’s family moving to hide from the “strangers” – whites moving into the area. Eventually, they learn that the Ojibwe ogimaag (civil chiefs) have signed treaties requiring them to move to a reservation known as White Earth. Once they get to White Earth, they come into close contact with white settlers and many Ojibwe people begin to adopt white ways, even as they struggle over the question of how to maintain their old ways of life.

The story is told as a narrative, describing what Oona is feeling and thinking as she experiences all of these things throughout her life. Unfortunately, it’s not clearly described how Ignatia Broker came to learn so much of her great-great-grandmother’s life. Oona lived until Broker was at least ten years old, so it may be that she learned the stories at least in part from her directly. If so, that would make this book an incredible record of oral tradition.

There is an incredible amount of information in this book about traditional Ojibwe values and lifeways. Broker goes into great detail describing how Ojibwe people lived and how their lives changed over time, and she is clearly very knowledgeable on this topic. One passage that really struck me was her description of the Ojibwe philosophy surrounding the earth, which she refers to as Grandmother. It’s a little thing, but most people nowadays in English call the earth Mother Earth, but whenever I have heard elders speaking Ojibwe talk about the earth, they call her Grandmother. Details like this make me value this book immensely as a source of knowledge that can be passed on to future Ojibwe generations.

For better or for worse, Broker does not linger on many of the darker parts of Native American history. There is one scene where Oona and her companions are mistaken by soldiers for Dakotas and are captured and nearly killed, but otherwise the danger of whites, though felt through the actions of the characters, is not really explained. (Why, for instance, do they feel the need to hide from the “strangers”?) Likewise, though Broker describes many of the effects of assimilation such as schooling and Christianization, she only once mentions the rise of alcoholism and abuse in Ojibwe communities that came with these things. Perhaps she didn’t want to delve into such heavy topics, but the absence does feel notable to someone who knows that history.

Broker explicitly states that she intends Night Flying Woman to be a resource for younger generations, and I would say that it would definitely be good for young readers (I’m not very good at suggesting exact age groups, though, sorry). The family atmosphere and old time setting makes me think of the Little House books, so this might be a good supplement of an Ojibwe perspective if you or your kids like those books (even though they are extremely anti-Indian). All in all, I enjoyed reading this quite a bit and think it is a very valuable source of information on Ojibwe history.

My Top 10 Native Books

Where else is a good place to start than the classics? These are, in no particular order, my favorite 10 books by Native authors.

523821. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
This book may be the single most-taught Native book in schools across the United States, but for good reason. Although it’s often characterized these days as the prototypical “mixed blood angst” book, in fact Ceremony has a much bigger message in its pages: this affects all of us.

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2. Not Vanishing by Chrystos
These poems will blow your mind. At times Chrystos is beautifully fierce and her language is designed to punch you in the gut. At other times, she’s delightfully sensual in her attention to lovers and friends. Many of these poems should be required reading for anyone who wants to be an ally to Native people.

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3. The Women’s Warrior Society by Lois Beardslee
This book is one of the few that I’ve found that represents true as day the badass, educated (in more ways than just Western education) Native women in my life. It’s labeled as fiction, but its unique form reads just as well as a description of life in a small Anishinaabe border town.

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4. La Maravilla by Alfredo Véa, Jr.
Though Véa has been heralded as a Chicano writer, he is also Yaqui, and the intersection of those two identities is explored in this wonderful book depicting life on the outskirts of 1950s Phoenix, Arizona. Black, white, Mexican, and Native characters are all given equally fair treatment, as are the LGBTQ characters present in the book.

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5. My Body is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta
Identity and trauma are the two most prominent themes in this nonfiction book about Washuta’s experiences with mental illness and sexual assault. I related so much to this book, which deals with obviously heavy topics in an often humorous yet sensitive way.

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6. Solar Storms by Linda Hogan
This book will make you feel like you are surrounded by water at all times. On one level a classic “returning to one’s roots” story, Solar Storms also takes on themes of intergenerational trauma, poverty, and activism. Plus, the language is absolutely gorgeous.

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7. Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back by Leanne Simpson
I have–only somewhat jokingly–referred to this book as the Anishinaabe Decolonization Handbook. Leanne Simpson outlines a path for Anishinaabe people thoroughly rooted in Anishinaabe philosophy. Even if you’re not Anishinaabe, it’s worth reading to see how tribally-specific stories are being used for indigenous resurgence.

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8. Living Our Language edited by Anton Treuer
A good companion book for Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back, this is a collection of oral histories from Minnesota and Wisconsin Anishinaabe elders. What’s really special is that all the stories are presented in both Anishinaabemowin and in English, making it invaluable for language learners like me. Anyone, though, would learn a great deal from these elders’ stories.

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9. Columbus and Other Cannibals by Jack D. Forbes
Rooted in the Algonquian stories of the wétiko, or cannibal, this book argues that the invasion of the Americas is based in a philosophical, spiritual sickness that has spread across the world. I don’t agree with everything in this book, but the idea of Western “civilization” as wétiko (or wiindigo, in Anishinaabemowin) is one that I have heard from many elders, and it’s nice to see it laid out in print.

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10. Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria
This novel was written by Dakota anthropologist Ella Cara Deloria in the 1940s, but wasn’t published until 1988. Following the life of a young Dakota girl in the early 1800s, it’s is a loving look at Dakota life, and especially Dakota women, after contact with whites but before domination by them.

Taanshi, Boozhoo!

Hello everyone! My name is Kai. I’m terrible at guessing what to say about myself–I’m a graduate student, I’m Eagle clan, I have a degree in First Nations Studies, I come from eastern Wisconsin, I’m two-spirit, I currently live in the Dakota people’s homelands, I am a student in American Studies… Those are a few things about me.

I decided to start this blog after I began following a few #DiverseBookBloggers and saw the awesome things folks are doing advocating for diversifying the world of books. After a while, though, I noticed–there aren’t too many Native people blogging, or anyone of any race reading books written by Native people (besides the wonderful Debbie Reese, who often reviews children’s literature by Native authors). So I thought, there should be someone out there who reviews Native authors’ books. As Jamie Berrout, a fantastic transgender Mexicana author, reminds us in her essays, there is power in whose books are read and reviewed, and in who does the reading and reviewing. I hope to boost the visibility of Native writers through this project.

Marsii, miigwech, and thanks for reading!