Saturday, March 31, 2007

Encyclopedic Resources for Projects on American Indians

Many librarians and teachers write to me, asking for reliable sources on American Indian culture, history, etc. They seek these resources in order to support student research projects.

As many of you know, there are a LOT of materials available on American Indians, but, many (I'd say most) are outdated and/or biased in ways that continue to present American Indians as victims, savages, or tragic heroes.

I'm really glad people are seeking other materials. I trust they'll use these materials to write materials for teachers to use, and if you're a writer, I hope you use these materials so that you do not replicate errors and stereotypes.

So! Here's my suggestion on how to proceed.

There are two excellent encyclopedias, both published in the 90s, both infused with the work of Native scholars, and more updated viewpoints of Native peoples. Both have entries written by Native scholars, political leaders, tribal leaders. Each entry is supported with "for further reading." Order each one for your library (note on May 22, 2019: a used copy of these books is far superior to most of what you'll find available, new). When a class is doing a particular research project, look it up in both encyclopedias. See what the entry says, who wrote it, and what their sources were. Look for additional items by the author of the entry, and look for their sources, too. The two encyclopedia's are:
  • Davis, Mary B. (1996) Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing Inc.
  • Hoxie, Frederick E. (1996) Encyclopedia of North American Indians. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

ALSO, get these three books. They are also excellent and teachers/librarians/students will find them helpful.
  • Francis, Lee. (1996) Native Time: A Historical Time Line of Native America. New York: St. Martin
  • Champagne, Duane. (1994) Chronology of Native North American History. Detroit: Gale Research
  • Champagne, Duane. (1994) Native America: Portrait of the Peoples. Detroit: Visible Ink Press

Using the Internet:

Go to Lisa Mitten's website. Lisa is in the American Indian Library Association, and maintains a webpage with links to homepages of Native Tribes/Nations. Those maintained BY the tribe are marked with a drum icon. Here's her page:

FINALLY, when using the web, make sure students go to Elaine Cubbins website BEFORE they start using the web to find material on American Indians. She, too, is in the American Indian Library Association. Her page is about evaluating webpages with Native content.

All these resources are listed somewhere here on my blog. The encyclopedias and books are at the bottom of my recommended books list, and the websites are listed in the section of my page called "Excellent Websites about American Indians."

Update, May 8, 2008...

An excellent set of books for elementary-middle school use is called "American Indian Contributions to the World," edited by Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield. There are five books in the set (the cover of one is shown above):
  • Food, Farming, and Hunting
  • Trade, Transportation, and Warfare
  • Science and Technology
  • Medicine and Health
  • Buildings, Clothing, and Art
Or, you can order it in a single volume, under the title Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the world: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations. The single volume, also by Keoke and Porterfield, was published in 2003.

Update, April 9, 2011

Read the websites, scholarship and research of people in American Indian studies! See "Native Professional Associations and Journals" on the left (scroll down). Today (May 22, 2019) I am listing them here:

Update, November 30, 2014

Do not use the online "Native American Encyclopedia." Wondering why? Here's my review:
Is that Native American Encyclopedia website any good?

Update, July 13, 2017

  • Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. An indigenous peoples' history of the United States. Beacon Press, 2014.
  • Mankiller, Wilma, and Rick West. Do All Indians Live In Tipis?: Questions and Answers from the National Museum of the American Indian (2007).
  • Treuer, Anton. Everything you wanted to know about Indians but were afraid to ask. Borealis Books, 2012.


Donde said...

Hi Debbie--

As a selector of materials for a large public library system I am very interested in your recommendations. Our difficulty with the research recommendations is the sources that you listed are more than ten years old. We have "weeding" guidelines that usually consider those materials inaccurate for current information. There have been a number of Native American encyclopedias and tribal guides published since then. I'm hoping that you can recommend something newer. Thanks for all your efforts!
Donde Smith

Debbie Reese said...


There are newer books, but if they carry the same bias as older ones, they aren't any better than the older ones.

The ones I recommend are excellent for the reasons I stated. Surely there is flexibility in the guidelines!

Claudia said...

I am a high school librarian and was very interested to read your recommendations of sources to use for student research projects. I am currently taking a course called American Children’s Literature for Children and have two papers to write. I am now planning to look for your recommended sources to look at for my own research.

Of the titles that you mention, our district owns 1 and my building owns none. I am happy to report however that my building does have a copy of the more recently published, Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the world: 15,000 years of inventions and innovations.

The techniques for evaluating American Indian Web Sites link will be very helpful and is right in line with all the “standard” criteria of website evaluation, one of the literacy skills that librarians teach. I am looking forward to spending more time looking at Lisa Mitten’s website and exploring the American Indian Library Association.

Thank you for pointing out these resources to teachers and librarians.

Shirley L. said...

I am a teacher librarian in 2 elementary schools in northern Minnesota. I use the AICL website frequently when reviewing books for our collection. I recently found a couple books requested by teachers that have not been reviewed on the site. I found your reference to A Broken Flute as a good resource for reviewing books. I am especially interested in children's literature but noticed the publication date is 2006. Is there an updated version or resource with reviews for books published recently?
Thanks for your assistance.

Shirley L.
Library Media Specialist

Debbie Reese said...


I don't know of a book like A Broken Flute that came out more recently. We try to do that online, here, on AICL. We write articles for places like School Library Journal from time to time, with books we recommend.