November marks the annual observance of National Native American Heritage Month, a time to honor the rich traditions, languages, and narratives of Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and affiliated Island communities. This month and beyond, we commemorate the culture and heritage of these remarkable Americans, ensuring that their invaluable contributions continue to shape our nation's identity. At the library, we believe one of the best ways to do this is by picking up a book by an Indigenous author.
This month, in honor of National Native American Heritage Month, I read Oscar Hokeah’s stunning debut, Calling for a Blanket Dance.
The novel begins with the matriarch of the Geimausaddle family—part Mexican, part Native American—and focusses primarily on Ever Geimausaddle, who is just a baby when we first meet him. Each of the twelve chapters is narrated from the perspective of a different family member, yet every relative shares a unifying goal: healing, preservation of strength for future generations, and the practice of Indigenous rituals.
After a brutal run-in with corrupt police officers at the Mexican border, Ever’s grandmother, Lena, fears her grandson will forever be cursed, having witnessed the cruelty with his own innocent eyes.
Early on, we learn about the necessity and urgency of the Geimausaddle family’s ability to practice Kiowa culture, as generations of elders grow old, pass on, and remain only in spirit.
Even through the hardest times, the book is a testament to the strength of the Kiowas. “Back when Kiowas were made prisoners of war and placed in concentration camps, the U.S. government didn’t allow us to practice our culture. The only thing we had were government rations called commodities, and in those commodities were tin salt and pepper shakers. Most looked at them and saw salt and pepper shakers, but we looked at them through Kiowa eyes and we saw gourd dance rattles.” This is just one proud act of resistance that allowed Kiowas to practice their culture and continue to embrace their traditions.
As Ever and members of the Geimausaddle family face endless struggle, we wonder if community is enough to pull them through. This book contains themes of healing, generational trauma, systemic oppression, and the power of change when community works together.
Blankets in particular are a symbol of healing throughout the book. There is love and healing in the quilts Ever’s grandmother stitches by hand. There is healing in the blanket dance when the community helps by tossing crumpled bills onto the blanket while dancing alongside the recipients, and there is power in the giving of these things to others: “The love [Lena] had for her family was laced within every piece of thread stitched across her quilts.”
Honest, heartbreaking, and inspirational, Calling for a Blanket Dance is the story of how Ever Geimausaddle finds healing, and, ultimately, home. I'm a huge fan of this book and couldn’t recommend it more.
Calling for a Blanket Dance is the recipient of numerous awards including the PEN America/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, Finalist for the 2023 Aspen Words Literary Prize, and Finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize/Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.
For more recommendations on what to read for National Native American Heritage Month, check out these 2022 releases: Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty and A Calm and Normal Heart by Chelsea T. Hicks. And for the latest pulse on Indigenous fiction, check out the following 2023 releases: Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology edited by Shane Hawk, And Then She Fell by Alicia Elliot, and Swim Home to the Vanished by Brendan Basham.
All of these books are available at the Wickson District Library or through the VLC. Happy reading!