As Native American Heritage Month draws to a close, here are four nonfiction books that help to illuminate the all too frequently overlooked history of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
In 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Vintage, $18), Charles C. Mann offers a sweeping survey of what scholars have learned about the Americas before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Ranging from the Incan Empire and the peoples of the Amazon basin to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and the mound builders of Cahokia, 1491 challenges many of the myths that Americans learn about what the Western Hemisphere was like.
West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776 (Norton, $16.95) is historian Claudio Saunt's look at what else was happening on the North American continent in the year that the United States of America declared its independence. While the Revolutionary War was being fought, the Spanish first arrived in what would become San Francisco, Russian fur trappers scoured the Alaskan coast and the Sioux discovered the Black Hills.
Since the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was passed in 1990, hundreds of tribes have used it to help them recover from museums and cultural institutions not only sacred objects but also human remains. In Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America's Culture (University of Chicago, $18.99), Chip Colwell discusses the history of the repatriation movement, as well as past and present struggles over specific artifacts and remains.
Published earlier this month, David Treuer's The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present (Riverhead, $17), challenges the misguided notion that Native American history ended following the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890. Treuer (Rez Life) discusses not only his own upbringing as an Ojibwe living on a reservation in Minnesota but also how Native Americans adapted, survived and resisted during times of great upheaval and in the face of racism and oppression. --Alex Mutter