Book Review: Notable Native People

Notable Native People is one of those books you want to buy in bulk and hand out to everyone you meet. Dr. Keene not only provides information on who each person is, what they have accomplished, and what they have overcome, but also provides a crucial context that allows non-Native readers to fully understand Native history and its effect on the United States and the sovereign tribal nations within it. 

Author Dr. Adrienne Keene does a fabulous job of balancing biographical information with cultural context. Essays that include colonialism information, land back background, Native belonging, representation in media, and current issues in Native lands are interspersed with the short biographies of Native people. Each notable Native person has their own beautiful illustration, making this book accessible for all ages.

There is a wide representation of Indigenous tribes represented. Those profiled include women, men, and non-binary individuals from many tribes and nations. The experiences covered in this book are vast, making each biography unique and stand on its own. Each individual is treated with respect and referred to by their preferred names.

The inclusion of Alaska Native and Maoli (Native Hawaiian) was highly informational. I especially appreciated the history and context of the Hawaiian monarchy overthrow and the process of how Alaska and Hawaii became states. The annexation of Hawaii to the United States was illegal, and something I was not taught about in school. This book also discusses how Alaska Natives living in the Aleutian islands were removed to internment camps during WWII, which is also not widely known or discussed in general public education.

Though the historical context and explanations were enlightening and informative, my favorite parts of this book were the biographies. There are so many wonderful people working hard to protect Native land, culture, history, and practices. It is hope giving to read how Native people have continually persevered and strived to protect their traditions. There are many people actively working to make a difference, and reading their stories is an honor.

What I love the absolute most is the sharing of Native joy. So much of our history has been portrayed as loss filled and sorrowful. While all of these things have occurred, every group of people is more than the worst things that have happened to them. This book really highlights that, showing joy in knowing who you are and where you’re from. All of these individuals are change makers having an impact on their own community and the world at large, and I am grateful to have learned about them.

As a citizen of Cherokee Nation, I often seek out books that highlight and discuss Indigenous experiences and/or are from Native authors. I was thrilled to read about my fellow Cherokees, and also fulfilled learning about our neighboring tribal nations and their customs. I was already familiar with Dr. Keene, as I listen to her podcast, All My Relations (I highly recommend it); she has a gift for explaining historical impact on modern people, and for exploring the nuance of what it means to be Native in a world where so often we are seen as fragments of the past. I highly recommend not only this book, but all of her work.

Notable Native People would be an excellent classroom resource, as its structure allows for continuous or interspersed reading. It is full of wonderful information, inspiring stories, and an honest representation of Native life now and throughout history.

Notable Native People will be available October 19, 2021. Thank you to NetGalley, Ten Speed Press, and Dr. Adrienne Keene for an advanced digital copy such that I could write this honest review.

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