Leff’s Picks | November 2023
Celebrating Native & Indigenous Artistry
Last Thanksgiving, I strolled through the National Cowboy Museum with my family (yes, non-Americans, we have one, and it’s awesome). Afterward, I found myself with a whetted appetite to learn more about the frontier from the Native American perspective. I seized the opportunity at the annual (and final) Newberry Book Fair this summer and came home with a stack of dusty old books on topics from the Sand Creek Massacre to the self-told story of the Menominee in Wisconsin. Over the following month, I read the entirety of The Portable North American Indian Reader, an anthology from the 1970s that, while a bit dated, contains a ton of great stuff: myths and stories grouped by tribe, speeches from famous Native American leaders, accounts from Hernán Cortés and Meriwether Lewis, modern (up to the ’70s) essays and poetry from Native thinkers, and more. It was a great starting place to dive deeper into other topics (and the other books sitting atop my To Be Read pile). If you’re like me and curious to learn about Native North American cultures, check out the recommendations from myself and others at Leff for a (more accessible, less esoteric, and more up-to-date) way to celebrate Native American Heritage Month.
-Claire Holland, Editor
After hearing countless ads for it, I finally decided to listen to Stolen, a podcast on Spotify. It uses true crime as a way of exploring Indigenous issues in Canada and the United States, from police systems and residential schools to life as an Indigenous woman. Host Connie Walker is herself Indigenous and offers a meaningful perspective on Indigenous life in North America, what these crimes mean to her, and how centuries of violently oppressive systems have affected Indigenous people. I learned a lot, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in these issues or in true crime, history, and politics more broadly.
Reservation Dogs (FX/Hulu) centers around four bored Muscogee youths who believe the solution for the existential woes of living in their tiny Oklahoma community is to fulfill their late friend’s wish of moving to California. While the coming-of-age trope is standard fare on television, the beauty of this show is that it plays against the film industry’s typical stereotypes of Indigenous people. The pace is languid, but every moment in the mundane feels purposeful and helps set the mood for each character-centered episode. While the show addresses topics like grief and generational trauma, it’s also full of humor and insight. The show finished its third and final season in September, and the last season was just as moving and fascinating as the first.
Braiding Sweetgrass is a beautiful nonfiction book by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. The book explores the wisdom of Indigenous people and how we as humans can have a relationship with the land around us. It had me thinking about how I experience nature and the beauty of it. I found her knowledge of biology, paired with themes of respect and gratitude, so interesting. Her perspective and the poetic way she shares it made this book a joy to read.
Jamaica Kincaid was raised in the British Empire, and she wants the empire to shove it. This is a classic essay that I’ve thought about regularly since eighth grade. It was the first piece of writing by an Indigenous/colonized person that I had read that contained anger, which was surprising, refreshing, and—now that I’ve experienced more of life—reasonable.