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The way that American history has been written and taught over the years has a tendency to portray Native Americans as savages whom the colonizers had to subdue and civilize. 

But the reality is that long before Columbus ever set foot on on American soil, the natives already had flourishing civilizations, with infrastructure to support agricultural activity and provide for the thousands of members in each tribe.

By reading insightful books across multiple viewpoints, you can get a glimpse into the lives of Native Americans in both the past and present, and better appreciate their roles in the history of the United States. 

11 Eye-Opening Books About Native Americans

Some of the books on this list were written in the modern day, while a few were written much closer to the actual time period being described.

Fiction

These novels and collections of stories describe Native American life across a variety of time periods.

1. The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth Speare 

This 1984 Newbery Honoree tells the story of 13-year-old Matt, who is left alone in his family’s new cabin in the woods while his father goes to get his mother and siblings.

Amidst the dangers of living alone, Matt meets Attean, a Native American boy of the Beaver clan, and they form an unexpected friendship that leaves Matt with a difficult decision to make.

2. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink 

A coming-of-age tale of a young girl, this book tells the story of Caddie, whose father allows her to run wild in the woods despite her mother’s insistence that she be brought up like a proper lady.

In the book, Caddie becomes instrumental in averting conflict between her pioneering community and the Native Americans, thanks to her friendship with one of the Natives. 

3. The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter 

Set in the 1700s, this fictional story tells about John Butler, a white boy taken captive by the Lenni Lenape Indians and adopted into the family of the warrior Cuyloga.

With his new name, True Son, he fully embraces his identity as an Indian. What happens when, eleven years later, his tribe signs a treaty to return their captives to the white men? 

4. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday 

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows a World War II veteran who comes home to a world he doesn’t know he can belong to again. But what if he has another world he can go home to and learn to embrace: his American Indian roots? 

5. Favorite North American Indian Legends by Philip Smith 

Lose yourself in Native American folklore with this collection of tales for children. This includes the Algonquin tale of Glooskap conquering the Great Bull-Frog, the “Bear Man” Cherokee legend telling about a hunter living with her prey, and the Pueblo tale of “The Man Who Married the Moon.” 

6. Winter in the Blood by James Welch 

This novel is told from the perspective of a young Native American, a self-destructive and sensitve man living in Montana. Searching for something to bind him to his ancestors’ land, he struggles with a personal tragedy and the dissolution of his heritage. 

Nonfiction

These books offer a more historical perspective of Native American culture.

7. A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolomé de Las Casas 

Written in 1542, Bartolomé de Las Casas was himself a traveller on one of Columbus’s voyages. As a critic of the way Spanish colonization worked in the New World, he was appalled by the mass slaughter, slavery, and torture which he saw under the later conquistadors.

8. 1491 by Charles Mann 

Using history, archaeology, and science, Charles C. Mann challenges our understanding of America before Columbus arrived in 1492. In stark contrast to what so many Americans learn in grade school, Native Americans were not settled sporadically across the wilderness, but were instead a very developed society with running water and immaculate streets! 

9. The Wisdom of the Native Americans by Kent Nerburn

Native American culture is known for having a deep connection with the environment, the land, and other beauties of nature. Check out this collection of writings that detail some of the revered teachings of the Native Americans to get a glimpse into their way of life. 

10. Little Big Bully by Heid E. Erdrich 

This collection of poetry uses American and Native American perspectives to answer the poignant question, “How did we come to this?” Check out these works of poetry and hear the shout of survivors as they warn us to take care of our future world. 

11. The Landing of the Pilgrims by James Daugherty 

Although the book is told from the perspective of the English colonizers, it does offer a glimpse of the first relationships between the Puritans and the Native Americans. The author draws from real journals of the pilgrims, which offers a look into that crucial time in U.S. history. 

Reading Books About Different Cultures

Reading books about history and different cultures can be a great way to see the world through new perspectives.

For more intriguing reads, check out this list of the 25 best biographies that offer insights to the lives of some of history’s most prominent figures.

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