November is Native American Heritage Month.
I didn't know that either until I started reading up on this recent brouhaha over No Doubt's offensive cowboys-and-Indians video. (I noticed that most of the mainstream media articles about the incident go on to plug the band's album or include photo slide shows of Gwen Stefani's fashion statements, but one of the only websites that mentions UCLA's American Indian Studies Center's open letter in response to the band's apology - which specifically mentions the Center - is Perez Hilton, of all places.)
The comment sections seem to be pretty mixed as to whether the video is racist and deserved to be pulled from the airwaves or whether this whole incident is just another example of political correctness run amok. I fall on the side of the video deserving to be pulled, as I believe it peddles a bunch of sad, lazy, stereotypical imagery of Native people and Native culture packaged for sale as fashion and pop music. Gross.
Native Americans and Alaskan Natives make up something less than 1% of the population of the US and are socioeconomically and geographically marginalized in the worst ways, but their importance to our national history and our American identity today can not be overstated. And yet, most Americans know so little about Native history or Native culture. Most people rarely or never think about American Indians at all; never consider their points of view, their opinions, or what contributions they could make to the public discourse. Most public schools in this country spend more time teaching the history of the Jewish Holocaust than they do teaching Native American history. What else could we as a nation possibly be besides offensively ignorant about their lives and opinions and feelings?
So in honor of Native American Heritage Month, here are some recommendations of mine (and I certainly do not claim to be an expert, but I am interested in American Indian history, so I have read a few things).
*Sundown by John Joseph Mathews
*Okla Hannali by RA Lafferty
*Anything by Angie Debo
*The Plains Indians of the Twentieth Century edited by Peter Iverson
*Bloodland: A Family Story of Oil, Greed, and Murder on the Osage Reservation (I really liked McAuliffe's book The Deaths of Sybil Bolton: An American History, but it's gone out of print.)
*Empire of the Summer Moon by SC Gwynne (He has some very problematic usage of the terms "savage" and "civilization" and the like, which I can only guess he's doing to be provocative and sell books, because I felt the research and writing in general was balanced. And the story is a fascinating, good read.)
Smoke Signals (an oldie but a goodie)