November is designated National Native American Heritage Month in order to celebrate and recognize the diverse cultures, traditions and histories of Native Americans. The Daily asked our writers for their recommendations on texts that tell Native American stories.
The Stanford Daily operates on the University’s campus. As Stanford’s Land Acknowledgement states: “Stanford sits on the ancestral land of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe. This land was and continues to be of great importance to the Ohlone people. Consistent with our values of community and inclusion, we have a responsibility to acknowledge, honor, and make visible the University’s relationship to Native peoples.”
“Whereas” by Layli Long Soldier (2017) — Recommended by Kirsten Mettler ’23
I came to “Whereas” through a class; we read a short excerpt from Long Soldier’s collection, and I was immediately pulled in by the creative resistance exemplified in her precision of language. I quickly picked up the entire work from Green Library, eager to hear more from such a captivating voice.
Written in response to a 2009 Senate resolution apologizing to Native Americans, “Whereas” explores Native communities’ long history of betrayals by the United States government. Reflecting on the use of the English language as an oppressive tool, Long Soldier — a citizen of Oglala Lakota Nation — crafts a poignant reply that grabs English and turns it on its head. She subverts the same language that has been used to write disregarded treaties and empty apologies to Native Americans for centuries.
This is perhaps best exemplified by my favorite work in the collection, “38.” The poem recounts the story of the murder of the Dakota 38, the largest mass execution in American history, when 38 Dakota tribe members were hanged for their role in the Dakota War of 1862. These Dakota men had revolted in response to countless injustices; government treaties were being broken, and tribe members were starving.
In “38,” Long Soldier claims the language of the United States government, using perfect grammar so that, as she writes, “Here, the sentence will be respected.” In this mechanically proper English, the poem outlines how the Dakota 38 were abused. But, toward the end, “38” breaks from its strict formation, moving toward more artistic language choices with poetic license. She writes about a trader who was ready to let the Dakota people starve, saying “let them eat grass.” Long Soldier goes on, explaining that when the trader’s dead body was found, his mouth was stuffed with grass: “I am inclined to call this act by the Dakota warriors a poem.”
Throughout the collection, Long Soldier revisists these powerful themes of language and resistance. Part II of the work is particularly striking; almost every phrase starts with the word “whereas,” the same word used in the Senate resolution to which Long Soldier is responding.
“Whereas” is warm — written with a kind of raw intimacy that is absorbed right into your pores. Long Soldier’s collection pairs beautiful writing with critical socio-political commentary, pushing “Whereas” onto any reader’s “to-read” bookshelf.
“Abandon Me: Memoirs” by Melissa Febos (2017) — Recommended by Leyla Yilmaz ’25
“Abandon Me: Memoirs” is Melissa Febos’ second memoir, following her debut, “Whip Smart.” The nonfiction collection features a series of autobiographical essays focusing on the theme of abandonment throughout Febos’ life.
Febos discusses abandonment through stories about her birth father who left during her early childhood; her step-father, a boat captain, who left home for months at sea; her tumultuous love affair with her married girlfriend; her struggle with addiction and her brother’s struggle with his own identity and mental health. When discussing the many ways she has grappled with separation and neglect, Febos not only uses lyrical prose, but also supplies a wide range of evidence, from philosophical essays to plays, poems and scientific articles. Febos conveys her most intimate feelings and her complex conscience through her moving word choices and allusions, reflecting her personal truth in its entirety to an audience of strangers.
Febos’ Native American ancestry shapes a prominent part of her narrative as she describes Native peoples’ forced detachment from their land, culture and history as an abandonment itself. Again drifting from poetic prose to historical narration, Febos highlights Wampanoag history and condemns the genocide for its cruel erasure of the Wampanoag people. She explores the idea of intergenerational trauma, citing articles that relate the modern struggles of Native peoples to a history of loss, transcending time.
On a personal level, Febos’ disconnect from her own ethnic background, which she describes as “ambiguous” due to her separation from her biological father, outlines how one can abandon their own self. Throughout her essays, she asserts that one needs to connect physically and emotionally with other people, but also with themselves. She discloses the hardships of connecting with her own self and her ancestry when that ancestry has been perniciously marginalized and forcibly erased over time. “I was not awake. I had exiled large swathes of my history, and been denied others,” Febos writes.
Febos’ memoir is a must-read for it is a touching personal narrative, social critique and historical documentation in one book. The raw portrayal of Febos’ life story saddens, frustrates and educates the redear simultaneously, creating a reading experience like no other.
“Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013) — Recommended by Fyza Parviz Jazra M.A. ’22
I have to admit; I can’t stop reading “Braiding Sweetgrass.” And the more I read this book, the more I am baffled about its genre. Is it a scientific work, mixed with Indigenous wisdom of the natural world? Is it a memoir showcasing a mother’s concern for the well-being of her children and all species on this planet? Is it a political treatise illuminating a new way forward for humanity, helping us to divorce ourselves from the evils of overconsumption, market capitalism and a mindless way of being? Or is it a love letter from a poet to the Earth? Botany Professor Robin Wall Kimmerer is an ecologist, a poet, a mother and a member of the Potawatomi Nation. In 2013, she published this remarkable opus about not only healing our relationship with the Earth, but also healing ourselves.
I treated myself to the audiobook version, narrated by Kimmerer herself. Her smooth and melodious voice instantly put me into a trance. I could envision myself joining her on walks through the forest — guided by the teachings of the plants, protecting salamanders or thanking the berries for their fruits before picking them for my feast. I could see myself having coffee with her and being delighted by her offer of pancakes with the maple syrup freshly procured from backyard trees. Oh, how delightful it would be to live in her farmhouse with a pond she made swimmable after a multi-year cleanup effort — a process that opened Kimmerer to the preservation of even the minutest of creatures.
I listened to the audiobook while working on mundane tasks, driving along endless and congested freeways and during contemplative walks around the Stanford campus. Her voice constantly reminded me that there is a better way of being, that humanity can restore its relationship with the planet.
This book will be one of my go-to gifts for family and friends this holiday season. As Kimmerer writes, “Gifts… establish a particular relationship, an obligation of sorts to give, to receive, and to reciprocate.” It will be my offering to my brethren to help them learn about the Honorable Harvest, the Onondaga Thanksgiving Address and the voluminous profound teachings from not only Native American communities, but also from the natural world.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.