Welcome to Native American Heritage Month 2021!

By Mitch Farish | November 4, 2021

November is Native American Heritage Month! Follow the conversation below between Librarian for African American and African Studies Katrina Spencer and other Library staff discussing recommended titles from the Library collection about the histories, cultures, lands, and politics of Indigenous peoples of the Americas. For research guidance and queries about Indigenous groups, visit the UVA Library’s Native American & Indigenous Studies (NAIS) research guide or contact our Librarian for Art, Archaeology, & Indigenous Studies, Lucie Wall Stylianopoulos.

Katrina Spencer, Librarian for African American & African Studies: Hey, Lucie, tell us about some of the notable works in our collection that address Indigenous Studies.

Lucie Wall Stylianopoulos, Librarian for Art, Archaeology, & Indigenous Studies: I’d like to share a couple!  First, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s "Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants" (available in print and e-book formats). Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the SUNY Distinguished Teaching Fellow of Environmental Biology. She describes herself as a “traveler between scientific and traditional ways,” successfully interweaving settler scientific method and the Indigenous knowledge of her family’s story. In one chapter, for example, Wall Kimmerer illustrates the role of pecan trees in sustaining her resilient, dispossessed ancestors, telling a delightful story of how the pecan trees hold a council to discuss the system of “mast fruiting” (periodic heavy production of pecan nuts) which ensures mutual survival of people and trees. If the scientific method can be turned into the art of poetry, this book is one of the best examples. The rich vignettes of “Braiding Sweetgrass” seamlessly guide the reader without giving away the secret that this is a study of one of the most important fields in STEM research today.

Second, noted anthropologist Jefferey Hantman, who taught at UVA, collaborated with the Monacan Nation (on whose land the University was built) to write "Monacan Millenium," an authoritative resource on one of the largest federally recognized Indigenous groups in what we now know as Virginia. Hantman painstakingly reviewed and amassed considerable archival evidence while successfully interweaving the Monacan historical record with that of the colonizers in Virginia. His book clarifies the archaeological evidence, unraveling the historical tales from Jamestown and relating the Monacan story to events which have shaped the Virginia and United States historical myth.

Katrina: Wow. So “Braiding Sweetgrass” defies genre and simple categorization, and “Monacan Millennium” reveals some of UVA’s history. I agree it should be required reading for all UVA affiliates. Keith, you’re a history specialist. What work do you want to feature this month?

Keith Weimer, Librarian for History, Politics, and Religious Studies: Lisa Brooks’ "Our Beloved Kin," discusses “King Philip’s War” (1675-77), which was one of the most important conflicts of the 17th century. It seriously threatened the New England colonies and devastated Indigenous communities in the region. The Wabanaki author and historian, whose community was embroiled in the conflict, starts the book by thoroughly reinterpreting the first century of Indian-white relations in New England. I have read a number of books about this period and conflicts between Native Americans and British settlers, including, for example, Francis Jennings’ "The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest," which upends the legend of the Pilgrim and Puritan Fathers' by looking critically at the colonizers’ use of their own source material. But Brooks gave me a much fuller picture of the settlers’ quest to use law and force to control all the land — a quest implicit among the Pilgrim Fathers before they ever sat down for the first Thanksgiving. The author also used Indigenous world views and oral histories to interpret colonial sources for a completely fresh perspective on the early history of what became the United States.

Katrina: You all are really making my reading lists quite a bit longer! There’s an endless amount to learn. Chris, as the liaison to American Studies, I know you’ll have a worthy title to recommend. What do you have for us?

Chris Ruotolo, Director of Research in the Arts and Humanities and Liaison to American Studies: I do! I’ve been reading "When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through," a new poetry anthology edited by current United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. This broad-ranging collection features works by poets from over ninety tribal nations across the U.S., from the 17th century to the present day. Harjo has chosen to arrange the poems by geographic region, which underscores how deeply much of the poetry engages with the land — both in terms of its natural imagery, and in its recurring themes of spiritual rootedness, as well as loss, displacement, and resistance. Although most of the poems in the collection are written in English, Harjo’s introductory essay describes how the poems reflect native language constructs and oral traditions, creating a varied cultural record that is a distinct yet essential part of a shared canon of literature. The Monacan Nation, on whose ancestral land UVA stands, is represented by two poems by the late Karenne Wood, who was the first Monacan Indian to earn a Ph.D. at UVA.

Katrina: I’m mesmerized. What an ambitious work with such a wide scope! So many voices mingling together in one space. And you, Leigh, tell us about the title that studies Indigeneity that you most recently got to know.

Leigh Rockey, Video Collections Librarian: Sure! "Say We Are Nations," edited by Daniel M. Cobb, presents Indigenous voices from 1887 to 2015 through 55 short primary sources: letters, congressional testimony, interviews, essays, poems, and more. Those of us who are not historians appreciate Cobb's brief comments that introduce each resource, setting the documents within the context of the times but not imposing himself on the emerging narrative. The documents are very alive — we can read not only frustration and pain in them, but joy and humor. We can also perceive the diversity of opinions among the various Indigenous groups which comprise many nations. The poet Lyla June Johnston gets the last word: “So please do not call me an American / please do not even call me a Native American / please, I beg you, call me human.”

What about you, Katrina? Is there a title you have on your mind?

Katrina: The graphic novel "Paying the Land" by Joe Sacco is very informative about land rights in what we now know as northwestern Canada. Sacco is well known for traveling and creating comics that function as journalism documenting contemporary conflicts. In this work, Sacco tells the history of the Dene people and their intimate relationship with and reliance upon the land. He highlights how plans to extract resources from the land are culturally disruptive and threatening to traditional ways of life. The artwork is in black-and-white and covers hundreds of years of history. I recommend it to anyone trying to better understand what is at stake when it comes to land rights for Indigenous groups. Collectively, these titles will certainly help us review how North America, as we now know it, came to be, and how Indigenous cultural practices and ways of life have survived centuries of sanctioned genocide and oppression. I have a number of titles to add to my reading list!