Independent bookstores have been in the headlines a lot since 2020, and for good reason. These neighborhood bookstores are gems in our communities. They are places that hold events, partner with educators to invest in the future, support other local businesses and charities, and enrich our communities and our minds. Paying attention to where we spend our book budgets makes a difference. Indigenous owned stores are too few in North America, which is a shame because it’s their land we live on. (Not sure whose Native land you’re living on? Find out here.) These Indigenous owned bookstores are a good place to start to intentionally spend your book money to support independent bookstores.
Red Planet Books & Comics in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has a wide selection of books, games, toys, collectables, and comics. They have a membership available for purchase called The Rebellion for fans who are dedicated buyers of comics, books, Manga & other pop culture stuff. Members get 20% off their purchases. Soon they’ll be launching a subscription service called Wonder Box Subscriptions with curated materials for your “monthly dose of Indigeneity.” The curriculum for K–5 is currently underway. The founder, Dr. Lee Francis IV, opened the store after hosting the first Indigenous Comic Con. “I wanted to create a space where we could continue the party all year round, and beyond an annual event,” Lee said.
Red Planet is the only Native owned comic book shop in the world. They are a mission based bookstore focused on highlighting Indigenous creators/creations, BIPOC books, queer creators, and women creators. Adrian Pilgrim, the store’s retail manager, said, “essentially we get to make sure that kids from similar backgrounds as us and who look like us get to see stories that reflect their lives, written by people they can recognize and identify with.”
Red Planet also provides access to NISN Native literature curriculum for 6–12th grades. “The NACA Inspired Schools Network (NISN) recruited ten expert teacher-designers to create a 6th through 12th grade Native Literature curriculum based on years of original curriculum design that melds fiction and nonfiction texts 1) by and about Indigenous peoples, 2) grounded in anti-bias/anti-racist and equity terminology and learning, 3) and guided by the Common Core State Standards. Each grade-level curriculum is aligned to the others under the conceptual auspice of Indigenous Identity & Joy, Empowerment, Equity, & Justice, and Analysis, Interpretation, & Synthesis and all yearlong and unit curriculum were designed using the research-based framework, Understanding by Design (UbD).” This is an open-sourced, free curriculum that educators can join if they are interested in adapting it for themselves or their schools. Be on the lookout for the next opportunity for K–5 in 2022.
The physical store can be found in Honolulu, where they also carry all kinds of Hawaiian goods. There is art, bath and body, cultural products, quilts, stationary, and more. In addition to all this, there’s an online store for books all about Hawai’i and the Pacific.
Libelula Books in Waterloo, Iowa, was started in the winter of 2015. The locally owned, independent online bookstore was started by Mexican Americans. The online store is in both English and Spanish. It has a knowledgeable staff with over ten years of experience. Knowledge like this cannot be undervalued when trying to remember the name of a book or if you have a question that Google can’t find the answer. The staff also have experience in Latin studies, literature, education, library service and consultation services.
Located in Pittsburg, Kansas, this shop opened in November of 2020. They strive to offer a diverse collection, especially highlighting Indigenous authors and stories. At the Burrow there are multiple book clubs and soon will feature an in-store mystery room, not that anyone would ever want to escape a bookstore this beautiful. Books & Burrow also offers $5 flat rate shipping.
Bird Cage Book Store and Mercantile is located in downtown Rapid City, South Dakota. Native American owned and operated, Bird Cage specializes in Native American, multicultural, Indigenous literature and good trade products. Their online store Word Carrier Trading Post works to bring the written word to schools, communities, and homes. “We carry over a thousand titles written by native and non-native authors, about natives peoples in history and in the world today. We focus on literature that is reflective of the Northern Plains Tribes. But also work hard at meeting the literary needs of native tribes across the United States.”
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, Birch Bark Books is a treasure in their community. “We exist to keep real conversations between book lovers alive. We exist to nourish and build a community based on books. We are a neighborhood bookstore, and also an international presence. Our visitors come from Minneapolis-St. Paul, from every U.S. reservation and Canadian reserve, and from all over the world.” They will special order books by request, are a teaching bookstore, are happy to answer any questions patrons might have, and Louise Erdrich will sign or personalize any of her books ordered through the bookstore.
“Throughout the pandemic, we had to completely change our methods of how we got books into the hands of our customers. We basically turned into a shipping station overnight, and with our small staff (and small physical location), we had a lot on our hands with all of the steps in the shipping process, from buying the books, receiving them, processing them in our cash register, packing, then printing the postage label,” says Halee Kirkwood, General Manager.
Birch Bark supports Native artists, selling their wares in store and online. They support Native gardeners and sustainable Indigenous harvesting. It was very important to them to be sustainable in the construction of their store as well by salvaging materials and using as much nontoxic materials as possible.
“It is always magical to us when an Indigenous person comes to our store and sees their tribe, identity, and experience fully represented on our bookshelves. We have customers who regularly say that they’ve made ‘a pilgrimage’ to Birchbark, which is a way, perhaps, our customers are reclaiming that loaded word! We’ve also seen an incredible surge in all genres of ‘Indigilit’ — particularly, this year, of Native voices on the Young Adult shelves. We love to see Indigenous authors thrive, and strive to amplify their books, voices, and art to the best of our abilities,” Halee Kirkwood said.
The community around Birchbark is supportive and thrilled to have them. During the pandemic, they’ve had an increase of online support through virtual events, connecting people who otherwise might not get to encounter each other. Kirkwood added, “We also majorly increased our school and library order operations, supplying schools, tribal libraries, and more with meaningful Indigenous literature. We have seen a serious effort among not only schools in the Twin Cities but across Turtle Island to Indigenize their bookshelves, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to play a role in those endeavors.”
Plus, they have a page dedicated to their dogs, the Birch Bark-ers. It tells you which bookseller belongs to which dog and comes with custom recommendations from each pet. Click for cute puppy (and kitty!) content.
Located at 30 Nickeh Drive in Cherokee, North Carolina. Cherokee is a town on the reservation home of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. Talking Leaves is a charming store with a knowledgeable staff. They sell books, music, toys and children’s items, Native jewelry and artistry, and T-shirts.
GoodMinds is in Brantford, Ontario, and is a First Nations family owned business who is passionate about Indigenous education. They have an impressive collection in store and online. 5% of their sales go to the Supporting Indigenous Libraries Today (SILT) Fund. “Our goal is to support Indigenous communities that do not currently have a public library, and to help existing First Nations public libraries to enhance and expand. More than 90% of Indigenous communities do not have any public library at all.”
Achilles Gentle, the new owner, said that one of the most rewarding parts of being an Indigenous bookstore was “supporting Indigenous authors and illustrators that are trying to get their voices out there and have their stories told.” Gentle also spoke about how rewarding it was to service schools, ensuring authentic Indigenous education.
Iron Dog Books is a book truck and bookstore in Vancouver, British Columbia. Iron dog sells new, used and remaindered books in Tsleil-Waututh, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Musqueam territories (metro Vancouver) in an effort to keep books affordable. “As Indigenous people (Nuu Chah Nulth/Tsimsian and Anishinaabe/Settler) we care deeply about our home communities and strive always to move forward in a way that benefits our people and our environment. Book ownership and reading are powerful tools for self-determination and engagement — we are so proud that Iron Dog Books can be part of the next chapter of bookshops.” If you’d like to find where the truck is going to be, you need to check the calendar.
Why did they start in a truck? Hilary Atleo, the owner and store manager says, “There are a lot of challenges we face that are endemic to all bookselling, but the particular challenge of running a bookstore in our area is the incredibly high cost of commercial leases. We actually started our business in a truck (just like a food truck, but for books) because we couldn’t afford a retail space. After two years of business we finally built up a following that allowed us to lease a small unit in East Vancouver. We are fortunate that Iron Dog Books has been a success; however, I continue to advocate for a systemic change that will allow young entrepreneurs to launch community minded businesses.”
Atleo’s business is rewarding in many ways as well: “Creating a space for our community has to be top of the list! When folks tell us that they feel at home in our store or that they see themselves in our inventory it tells me our shop is genuinely helping people.”
The brick and mortar store is just as appealing as the truck, and there’s an impressive online store as well. They offer staff picks, a book trade-in program, and events. The response of the community to the brick and mortar store is “Incredible and overwhelming. Our neighbourhood is the right place for us and we are the right bookstore for this place. We try and be very attentive to the titles our customers are asking for and to reflect their needs as best we can,” according to Atleo.
Also in Vancouver, Massy Books has books ranging from rare, off-beat and out-of-print books to familiar titles and current-day best sellers. You can view their stock here. They have a performance space, an art gallery, and host events. Massy Books also partners with and supports many community non-profit and social justice organizations such as the Writer’s Exchange and Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs (RAVEN).
In Ottawa, Ontario, Barely Bruised Books sells both new and used books. You can sell and trade books here. They ship worldwide and offer 20% off all books that require shipping. There is a Starving Artists Corner where art of all mediums by Native artists is available for purchase.
Strong Nations is an Indigenous owned and operated online book and gift store, as well as a publishing house based in Nanaimo, British Columbia. All of the resources produced in the publishing house are made in Canada. Unfortunately, due to COVID, Strong Nations has closed its brick and mortar store, but the online store is still selling and has books available for purchase. In addition to books, they sell Indigenous gifts, classroom supplies and toys, and have the option to apply for wholesale. Their mission statement is that “Strong Nations provides an open service of information to support, and hopefully transform, the lives of Indigenous peoples by providing access to, and demonstrating the use of, Indigenous text in literacy acquisition. It is our hope that we can bring Indigenous content into the lives of all peoples in order to create pathways that support the building of strong nations together.”
If you like this post, try these ones:
- How To Start a Bookmobile, featuring an interview with Hilary Atleo, owner of Iron Dog Books!
- Indigenous Futurisms: 25 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books by Indigenous Authors
- Books About Indian Residential Schools In Canada and Picture Books To Teach Children About Residential Schools