During the last census, over 5.2 million Americans identified themselves as American Indian in combination with one or more races. 2.9 million Americans identified themselves as American Indian or Alaskan Native alone.
Contrast these numbers to the estimated 18 million indigenous people living in North America at the time Europeans first arrived.
In the United States those numbers declined to 600,000 by 1800, and to a mere 250,000 by 1890. Chicken pox, measles and smallpox were the biggest killers.
Even today Native Americans have a much higher mortality rate from certain causes than non-natives: tuberculosis 600 percent, alcoholism 510 percent and diabetes 189 percent higher. In addition, Indian youth have the highest suicide rate among all ethnic groups in the U.S.
November has been designated Native American Heritage Month to raise awareness about the challenges Native people have faced, historically and in the present. To learn more about the rich history and culture of Native American peoples, sample the writing of Native American authors.
Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday recounted the story of a young American Indian caught between the rhythm of the seasons and the dissipation of the twentieth century in his classic, House Made of Dawn. Momaday blended history, folklore, and memoir in telling the story of his Kiowa ancestors’ journey from their ancient beginnings in Mont. to their final defeat and relocation to Rainy Mountain, Okla., in The Way to Rainy Mountain.
Leslie Marmon Silko of the Laguna Pueblo is the author of several collections of poetry and short stories, as well as novels and other writings. In one of her most recent works, “The Turquoise Ledge,” Silko wove tales from her family’s past into observations taken on her daily walks in the Sonoran desert. The result is a deeply personal reflection on the enormous spiritual power of the natural world, how creatures and landscapes communicate to us and how they are all interconnected.
Abenaki writer Joseph Bruchac writes biographies for young readers, as well as fiction for children and adults. A performer known for his storytelling ability, Bruchac has also written a series of books for children retelling Native American stories and legends.
When Bear and Brown Squirrel have a disagreement about whether Bear can stop the sun from rising, Brown Squirrel ends up with claw marks on his back in “How Chipmunk Got His Stripes.” When cornmeal is stolen from an elderly couple, Cherokee villagers find a way to drive off the thief in “The Story of the Milky Way.”
Louise Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa, is the author of several bestselling novels featuring Native American characters. In her most recent, “The Round House,” Erdrich illuminated the harsh realities of contemporary life in a community where Ojibwe and white live uneasily together. In Plague of Doves, the lynchings of several Indians after a brutal murder haunted a small town on the edge of the Ojibwa reservation in North Dakota.
Erdrich’s story revolves around the descendants of the victims and the vigilantes as over time they find their lives interconnected in unexpected ways.
Sherman Alexie, of Coeur d’Alene and Spokane ancestry, writes fiction exploring the despair, poverty, and alcoholism among the lives of Native American people. “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” is a collection of interconnected stories about Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire, two young Native-American men living on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
Questions of authenticity and identity abound in “Blasphemy,” Alexie’s newest title. In this collection of old and new stories, characters grapple with racism, damaging stereotypes, poverty, alcoholism, diabetes, and the tragic loss of languages and customs.
You can share what you think about books you’re read, CDs you’ve listened to and DVDs or Blu-Rays you’ve watched. Click “write a review” under the book cover image in the library catalog or look for the red “reader review” stars. Read what others have written or click “add a review for this,” to add your own review.
On Thursdays beginning Nov. 29, Bookworm Buzz debuts on the library’s Facebook page. Interact in real time with library staff and others interested in books and reading.