As we settle into November, thoughts will of course turn towards Thanksgiving, a holiday that celebrates family, food, and gratitude. Back in elementary school, when we traced our hands to make paper turkeys, we also learned about the first Thanksgiving back in the 17th century, a glossed-over tale that ignores the complicated truth of our country’s history with Native Americans (or American Indians, or First Americans, or simply Indians, depending upon personal preference; terminology matters). President Obama has declared November National Native American Heritage Month, a time to advocate for and celebrate the rights (and rites), traditions, and unique cultures of Native Americans.
The truth is that it is easy to call up images of teepees, headdresses, and dream catchers, and say that we know what it is to be an American Indian. We live among towns whose names can be traced back to Native American roots, yet we tend to understand little about the cultures that have inspired these towns. In fact, there are two Native American tribe reservations in Suffolk County: The Poospatuck and Shinnecock Reservations. Really, the Native American population is comprised of distinct groups and tribes, each with their own histories and ways of living. To learn more about the many threads of Native American culture, The Library of Congress created a great web resource that links to images, videos, special events, and content to aid teachers. Recently, Native rights have been in the news due to the protests at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. To read up on this important matter, check out this article from the L.A. Times.
Food is always a cultural signifier, and the ingredients used in Native American cuisine can vary widely depending upon the region, and traditionally rely heavily on natural components (corn, squash, grains, berries, fish, meat, etc.). To be honest, I had a difficult time locating authentic, reliable sources for Native American recipes. However, I discovered a great database that’s available to Levittown patrons: Culinary Arts Collection. With this tool, you can research American Indian cuisine, from a historical and modern perspective. It seems that Indigenous cuisine is in the midst of a food revolution. Chef Sean Sherman has been garnering national attention for his Minnesota-based food truck, Tatanka Truck, which is bringing healthier Indigenous fare to the masses.
The Levittown Public Library owns many books about Native American history, culture, and so on–more than I can list in this space. I would recommend that you search our catalog, speak with a librarian (or Text-A-Librarian, which is an awesome service that we provide!), or browse the nonfiction 970 area (including the oversize) to get your mind going. And this goes for young readers, as well: Anyone in Levittown with a 4th grader in public school knows that we have an abundance of books about Native American tribes and cultural practices.
Here are a few resources that stand out, from various mediums:
The Native Americans: An Illustrated History (L970.0049N)
North American Indians Today series (J970.3 M)
Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes (J970.1 W)
Thunder Boy Jr. (J E Alexie)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (YA Fic. Alexie)
The Smell of Other People’s Houses (YA Fic. Hitchcock)
Blasphemy (SS Fic. Alexie)
The Round House (Fic. Erdrich)
Smoke Signals (DVD Feature Smoke)
For more suggestions about how to respectfully celebrate Native American Heritage Month, take a look at some of the ideas from Buzzfeed. As we prepare for our Thanksgiving feasts, let’s take some time to show our appreciation for the true First Americans.