Book Cover

Birding While Indian

A Mixed-Blood Memoir

Thomas C. Gannon

246 pp. 5.5 x 8.5
6 Illus.

Pub Date: June, 2023

Subjects: Creative Nonfiction

Series: Machete

Imprint: Mad Creek

order Paperback $19.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-5872-9
Order PDF ebook$19.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-8289-2

Winner, 2024 Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize

“Gannon takes us along on his journey through a part of the nation that is often ignored or misunderstood, and despite plenty of heartache and sorrow, he offers much-needed moments of levity. … Whether recounting his encounters with a great horned owl, sandhill crane, wood duck, field sparrow, bald eagle, white stork, or snowy egret, the author is consistently engaging and thoughtful about his place in a world that we share with a wondrous assortment of other species. A fascinating search for personal and cultural identity.” —Kirkus

“Lyrical and evocative … Gannon’s ruminations on his identity crisis hold undeniable power.” —Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly: Forthcoming Adult Books by Indigenous Authors

“Since time immemorial, Native people have looked for signs from avian beings, and here, Thomas Gannon carries on those traditions in his wry chronicles about growing up and living on the Great Plains. This is a much-needed and much-appreciated addition to Native literature. Birding While Indian is all that and a bag of tobacco.” —Tiffany Midge, author of Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s

Thomas C. Gannon’s Birding While Indian spans more than fifty years of childhood walks and adult road trips to deliver, via a compendium of birds recorded and revered, the author’s life as a part-Lakota inhabitant of the Great Plains. Great Horned Owl, Sandhill Crane, Dickcissel: such species form a kind of rosary, a corrective to the rosaries that evoke Gannon’s traumatic time in an Indian boarding school in South Dakota, his mother’s tears when coworkers called her “squaw,” and the violent erasure colonialism demanded of the Indigenous humans, animals, and land of the United States.

Birding has always been Gannon’s escape and solace. He later found similar solace in literature, particularly by Native authors. He draws on both throughout this expansive, hilarious, and humane memoir. An acerbic observer—of birds, of the aftershocks of history, and of human nature—Gannon navigates his obsession with the ostensibly objective avocation of birding and his own mixed-blood subjectivity, searching for that elusive Snowy Owl and his own identity. The result is a rich reflection not only on one man’s life but on the transformative power of building a deeper relationship with the natural world.

Birding While Indian provides a thoughtful contribution to Native American and environmental studies. It deserves to be widely read, particularly as we battle the twin global crises of structural racism and environmental collapse … it’s an honest memoir with sensitive nature writing, a testimony to the non-human world’s ability to provide human solace.” —Glen Retief, River Teeth

“[Tracks] the devastating and far-reaching impacts of colonialism through an interweaving of history, philosophy, poetry and [Gannon’s] personal experiences with birds.” —Molly Adams, the Washington Post

Thomas C. Gannon is an associate professor of English and ethnic studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and a lifelong birder and inhabitant of the Great Plains. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.


PREFACE: The Lifelook


March 1965, Piss Hill: Great Horned Owl

July 1967, Piss Hill: Lewis’s Woodpecker

January 1968, Rapid Creek: Common Goldeneye

June 1969, I-90: Western Meadowlark

April 1970, Fort Pierre/Missouri River: Sandhill Crane

June 1970, a Fort Pierre slough: Wood Duck

August 1971, Saskatchewan: Western Grebe

May 1977, a Rapid City marsh: Red-winged Blackbird

June 1978, Spearfish Canyon: American Dipper

June 1979, a Pennington County dirt road: Common Nighthawk

August 1981, Old Faithful: Common Raven

June 1983, a Pennington County dirt road: Long-billed Curlew

June 1985, Skyline Drive: Field Sparrow

June 1985, Fort Morgan, CO: House Finch

September 1987, northern Black Hills: Mourning Dove

December 1987, Belle Fourche, SD: [Species Unknown]

January 1989, Rapid City, SD: European Starling

January 1991, Gavins Point Dam: Long-tailed Duck

April 2001, U of Iowa English-Philosophy Building: Common Grackle

February 2003, Kirk Funeral Home: Prairie Falcon

April 2003, U of Iowa English-Philosophy Building: Northern Cardinal

May 2003, Clay County Park: Bald Eagle

June 2004, Ardmore, OK: Northern Mockingbird

June 2005, Folsom Children’s Zoo: White Stork

June 2006, Crazy Horse Memorial: Turkey Vulture

July 2008, Kountze Lake: Snowy Egret

August 2008, Fontenelle Forest: House Wren

May 2009, the lake beside Lakeside, NE: Black-necked Stilt

May 2009, Devils Tower: American Goldfinch

May 2009, Little Bighorn Battlefield: Eurasian Collared-Dove

May 2009, Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge: Marbled Godwit

July 2009, Pioneers Park: Brown-headed Cowbird

June 2010, Idyllwild, CA: Steller’s Jay

June 2010, Spirit Mound: Dickcissel

May 2011, Wilderness Park: Veery

December 2011, Highway 385: Ferruginous Hawk

May 2012, Indian Cave State Park: Chuck-Will’s-Widow

June 2012, Custer State Park: Canyon Wren

June 2012, Millwood State Park: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

July 2012, Newton Hills State Park: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

July 2012, Morrison Park: Lesser Goldfinch

May 2013, Pawnee Lake State Recreation Area: Bonaparte’s Gull

May 2014, El Segundo Beach: Brown Pelican

March 2015, Pawnee Lake State Recreation Area: American Robin

July 2016, Medicine Bow National Forest—Vedauwoo: Dusky Flycatcher

November 2017, Lewis and Clark Lake: Snowy Owl

March 2018, West Platte River Drive: Whooping Crane

May 2018, Little Bighorn Battlefield: Red-tailed Hawk

CODA: Birding While Indian

Works Cited and Sources Consulted

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