Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir

Winner of the PEN Oakland–Josephine Miles Literary Award

Winner of the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award, Gold Medal for Autobiography/Memoir

Shortlisted for the 2014 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing

“If we allow the pieces of our culture to lie scattered in the dust of history, trampled on by racism and grief, then yes, we are irreparably damaged. But if we pick up the pieces and use them in new ways that honor their integrity, their colors, textures, stories—then we do those pieces justice, no matter how sharp they are, no matter how much handling them slices our fingers and makes us bleed.”

This beautiful and devastating book—part tribal history, part lyric and intimate memoir—should be required reading for anyone seeking to learn about California Indian history, past and present. Deborah A. Miranda tells stories of her Ohlone Costanoan Esselen family as well as the experience of California Indians as a whole through oral histories, newspaper clippings, anthropological recordings, personal reflections, and poems. The result is a work of literary art that is wise, angry, and playful all at once, a compilation that will break your heart and teach you to see the world anew.

Reviews

“A searing indictment of the ravages of the past and a hopeful look at the courage to confront and overcome them.”

Kirkus Reviews

 

“Miranda’s is an emotional, powerfully told story that contributes greatly to her goal of ‘killing the lies’ about her people.”—Deborah Donovan, Booklist

 

“For so long, Native writers and readers open books of our tribal history, archaeology, or anthropology and find that it is not the story we know. It does not include the people we know. It does not tell the stories of the heart or the relationships that were, and are, significant in any time. When we write our own books, they do not fit the ‘record,’ as created by and confirmed by outside views. From the voice of the silenced, the written about and not written by, this book is groundbreaking not only as literature but as history.”

—Linda Hogan, author of the Pulitzer Prize–nominated Rounding the Human Corners and a faculty member for the Indigenous Education Institute

 

“Essential for all of us who were taught in school that the ‘Mission Indians’ no longer existed in California, Deborah Miranda’s Bad Indians is a fascinating book that combines tribal histories, family histories, family tape recordings, and the writings of a white ethnologist who spoke with Miranda’s family, together with photographs, old reports from the mission priests to their bishops, and newspaper articles concerning Indians from the nearby white settlements. But it’s her poetry and prose, and the way she structures the book, which are the real treat for the reader. Her poems provide the delicate but strong structure that beautifully joins all the elements. Always lively, informative and insightful, Miranda takes us on a journey to locate herself by way of the stories of her ancestors and others who come alive through her writing. It’s such a fine book that a few words can’t do it justice.”

—Leslie Marmon Silko, author of Ceremony and The Turquoise Ledge

 

Bad Indians brings the human story of California’s indigenous community sharply into focus. It’s a narrative long obscured and distorted by celebrations of Christian missionaries and phony stories about ‘civilization’ coming to a golden land. No other history of California’s indigenous communities that I know of presents such a moving, personal account of loss and survival.”

—Frederick E. Hoxie, Swanlund Professor, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

About the Author

Deborah A. MirandaDeborah A. Miranda is an enrolled member of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation of California, and is also of Chumash and Jewish ancestry. The author of two poetry collections—Indian Cartography, which won the Diane Decorah Award for First Book from the Native Writer’s Circle of the Americas, and The Zen of La Llorona, nominated for the Lambda Literary Award—she also has a collection of essays, The Hidden Stories of Isabel Meadows and Other California Indian Lacunae, forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press. Miranda is an associate professor of English at Washington and Lee University and says reading lists for her students include as many books by “bad Indians” as possible. Visit Deborah Miranda's blog, BAD NDNS.