Your American Indian Heritage Month Reading List

As you might know, November is American Indian Heritage Month, when we celebrate the countless contributions of Native peoples to our country and recognize the struggles of generations past and present. There are a number of ongoing activities on UNC’s campus as part of this month’s celebration. You can learn more at the UNC American Indian Center website.

Books that treat the many facets of American Indian culture and history are a burgeoning component of UNC Press’s list. Here are some recent books that teach us more about the significant lives, endeavors, triumphs, and trials of American Indians throughout history.

Federal Fathers and Mothers

Federal Fathers & Mothers: A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869-1933, by Cathleen D. Cahill, offers the first in-depth social history of the United States Indian Service (now the Bureau of Indian Affairs) during the height of its assimilation efforts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The USIS pursued a strategy of intimate colonialism, using employees as surrogate parents and model families in order to shift Native Americans’ allegiances from tribal kinship networks to Euro-American familial structures and, ultimately, the U.S. government. [Read previous blog posts about Cahill’s book, including a guest post from the author.]

From Chicaza to Chickasaw: The European Invasion and the Transformation of the Mississippian World, 1540-1715 by Robbie Ethridge, traces the metamorphosis of the Native South from first contact in 1540 to the dawn of the eighteenth century, when indigenous people no longer lived in a purely Indian world but rather on the edge of an expanding European empire. Using a framework that Ethridge calls the “Mississippian shatter zone” to explicate these tumultuous times, From Chicaza to Chickasaw examines the European invasion and the collapse of the precontact Mississippian world and the restructuring of discrete chiefdoms into coalescent Native societies in a colonial world. The story of one group—the Chickasaws—is closely followed through this period.

Rich Indians: Native People and the Problem of Wealth in American History, by Alexandra Harmon, explains that long before lucrative tribal casinos sparked controversy, Native Americans amassed other wealth that provoked intense debate about the desirability, morality, and compatibility of Indian and non-Indian economic practices. Blending social, cultural, and economic history, Harmon examines seven such instances of Indian affluence and the dilemmas they presented both for Native Americans and for Euro-Americans—dilemmas rooted in the colonial origins of the modern American economy. Harmon’s study not only compels us to look beyond stereotypes of greedy whites and poor Indians, but also convincingly demonstrates that Indians deserve a prominent place in American economic history and in the history of American ideas through the twentieth century.

The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story, by Tiya Miles, explains how James Vann, a Cherokee chief and entrepreneur, established Diamond Hill, the most famous plantation in the southeastern Cherokee Nation. In this first full-length study to reconstruct the history of the plantation, Miles tells the story of Diamond Hill’s founding, its flourishing, its takeover by white land-lottery winners on the eve of the Cherokee Removal, its decay, and its renovation in the 1950s. Vividly written and extensively researched, this history illuminates gender, class, and cross-racial relationships on the southern frontier. [Read related posts about Tiya Miles, including award announcements and a guest post from the author.]

Native Americans, Christianity, and the Reshaping of the American Religious Landscape is edited by Joel W. Martin and Mark A. Nicholas. In this interdisciplinary collection of essays, the editors gather emerging and leading voices in the study of Native American religion to reconsider the complex and often misunderstood history of Native people’s engagement with Christianity and with Euro-American missionaries. Surveying mission encounters from contact through the mid-nineteenth century, the volume alters and enriches our understanding of both American Christianity and indigenous religion.

The Quest for Citizenship: African American and Native American Education in Kansas, 1880-1935, by Kim Cary Warren, examines the formation of African American and Native American citizenship, belonging, and identity in the United States by comparing educational experiences in Kansas between 1880 and 1935. After the Civil War, white reformers opened segregated schools, ultimately reinforcing the very racial hierarchies that they claimed to challenge. To resist the effects of these reformers’ actions, African Americans developed strategies that emphasized inclusion and integration, while autonomy and bicultural identities provided the focal point for Native Americans.

Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation by Rose Stremlau explains how during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the federal government sought to forcibly assimilate Native Americans into American society through systematized land allotment. Stremlau illuminates the impact of this policy on the Cherokee Nation, particularly within individual families and communities in modern-day northeastern Oklahoma. [Read recent guest posts by Stremlau.]

To see all (new, forthcoming, and backlist) titles in Native American and indigenous studies, visit the UNC Press website, where everything is currently 20% off during our holiday sale.

For additional current scholarship in Native American and indigenous studies, visit First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies, a Mellon-funded collaboration of UNC Press, the University of Arizona Press, University of Minnesota Press, and Oregon State University Press.