Native American Heritage Book Display and Land Acknowledgements

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The JKM Library is honoring the cultures and history of Native Americans through a book display. Native American and Indigenous Peoples’ Heritage Month may have already passed (please take a look at our related resources page), but we should continue to reflect on the past, present, and future of these communities and their relationship to of the United States of America: how Indigenous people were colonized, how they were almost decimated, and how they are still oppressed. We recognize that we occupy the unceded, ancestral land of many Indigenous peoples, including the Delaware, the Shawnee, and the Seneca Nation, who were members of the Haudenosaunee (hoe-dee-no-SHOW-nee) Confederacy. As recently as the 1960s, nearly one-third of the Seneca’s tribal lands were taken by the U.S. government to build the Kinzua Dam northeast of the Pittsburgh (for more on land acknowledgments, see this handout).

Located in the first floor, the display offers a curated selection of more than 40 books with an interdisciplinary focus, ranging from literature and history to environmental studies. Part of our goal is to make these resources more visible, which often remain hidden in the stacks. In addition, we wanted to center texts by Indigenous voices. In the case of books by non-Native American authors, we have tried to include works that are inclusive in their approach and do not reproduce problematic stereotypes.

For instance, we excluded a critically acclaimed book, S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon, because of its description of the Comanches as “primitive” and “barbarian.” Such language harks back to the racist discourse of past centuries, but the book was published only ten years ago and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. We also did not choose to share most of our Native American art books because they perpetuate the colonialist idea that Indigenous cultures are to be collected by white institutions without any attention to Native American perspectives. It is therefore urgent to share correctives to these narratives, especially from the perspective of institutions like ours, which not only occupy unceded land but also play a role in the formation of collective memory. In addition, the library’s DVD collection does not include any films directed by Native Americans except for Reel Injun, a documentary about the depiction of indigeneity in Hollywood movies, which is part of the display. We hope to be adding more items to our collection that reflect these concerns.

We invite everyone to experience the exhibit and check out any books that might interest you. Some books that we would like to highlight because of their importance for Native American history and cultures are:

  • Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (history)
  • Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality(gender and sexuality)
  • Natalie Diaz, When My Brother Was an Aztec (poetry)
  • Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves (fiction)
  • The Book of Elders: the life Stories of Great American Indians (testimony)
  • Terese Marie Mailhot, Heart Berries (memoir)
  • Native Americans and the Environment: Perspectives on the Ecological Indian (environmental studies)
  • David J. Silverman, This Land is their Land: the Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled history of Thanksgiving (history)
  • Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen (cooking)
Khalila Chaar-Pérez (she/they) is Reference Associate at the JKM Library and also works at the People’s Media Record, a grassroots video archive in Philly. She’s a proud trans Puerto Rican committed to cultivating transformative justice, antiracism, and a world without capitalism. She is also an avid hiker, a film nerd, and a trekkie.

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