Exploring Native Voices: Where to Start

When we ask people to share their voices here at America Equals, we acknowledge the fact that there are many diverse voices out there, and we encourage each of them to express themselves freely. Being Native American, it has always been important to me to see myself represented in different art forms, especially since there was so little native representation out there, let alone, accurate, respectful representation that fully acknowledges the ongoing presence of Native cultures. 


So, over the years, I made it a point to seek works by native creators and artists, and share these with other people as a way to increase healthier conversation on Native cultures. That being said, here is a list of five native “voices” that I think everyone should introduce themselves to:


  1. Sherman Alexie, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


Like perhaps many other people, Sherman Alexie was my first introduction to contemporary native literature, and to this day his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian continues to hold a place in my heart for its vivid exploration of modern issues natives face today. Although, he has plenty of other works like this, film and literature alike, this book is great for a first introduction concerning racial stresses and experiences on reservations among native populations today. Just, make sure to keep an open mind when reading because not every native experiences life this way.


  1. Tommy Orange, and There There


The most recent golden child of contemporary native literature, There There by Tommy Orange is a culmination of many native “voices” over the course of a single book. The characters featured are natives of many different cultures and walks of life, and each of their lives intertwine with each other in some way. It is a perfect book for expanding a persons’ perspective on the modern native experience, and makes an excellent follow up for Sherman Alexies’ The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.


  1. “Smoke Signals,” Directed by Chris Eyre


Inspired by the short stories of Sherman Alexie himself, this movie is popularly deemed as the “first feature film written, directed, and produced by Native Americans.” It was a crowd favorite at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998, and is still a favorite among me and my peers. Although the film itself is quite humorous, it is also filled with plenty of emotional heartfelt moments that most viewers will greatly appreciate. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be considered an American classic in the years to come.


  1. Ernestine Hayes


A lesser known author who is greatly respected by and a prominent voice for Alaska Natives, Ernestine Hayes often writes about her experience as a Native through memoir. Her works are primarily focused in Alaska, but it does not stray away from including her experiences outside of the state as well. Some of my favorites include Blonde Indian, and The Tao of Raven: An Alaska Native Memoir.


  1. Pamyua


The inventors of “Tribal Funk,” Pamyua is a musical group that blends traditional music styles and instruments with more contemporary practices. Their music often includes the practices of the Inuit, Yupik, and Greenlandic origin, and they are a group that Alaskans are very proud of.


This list, although diverse, is very narrow in its’ inclusions, and I encourage everyone to continue to seek and support native works after they had the chance to look into these. This is merely the tip of the iceberg.