Nonfiction

Becoming Little Shell

A Landless Indian’s Journey Home
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“A story of identity, kinship, and the journey toward justice.”—ROBIN WALL KIMMERER
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“Nothing less than the history of a people in the form of an absorbing and emotionally searing memoir.”—David Treuer, author of The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee

“I’m committed to uncovering the culture of my people. I’m com­mitted to learning as much of the language as I can. I’ve always loved this land, and I’ve always loved Indian people. The more I dig into it, the more I interact with my Indian relatives, the more it blooms in my heart. The more it blooms in my spirit.”

Growing up in Montana, Chris La Tray always identified as Indian. Despite the fact that his father fiercely denied any connection, he found Indigenous people alluring, often recalling his grandmother’s consistent mention of their Chippewa heritage.

When La Tray attended his grandfather’s funeral as a young man, he finally found himself surrounded by relatives who obviously were Indigenous. “Who were they?” he wondered, and “Why was I never allowed to know them?” Combining diligent research and compelling conversations with authors, activists, elders, and historians, La Tray embarks on a journey into his family’s past, discovering along the way a larger story of the complicated history of Indigenous communities—as well as the devastating effects of colonialism that continue to ripple through surviving generations. And as he comes to embrace his full identity, he eventually seeks enrollment with the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians, joining their 158-year-long struggle for federal recognition.

Both personal and historical, Becoming Little Shell is a testament to the power of storytelling, to family and legacy, and to finding home. Infused with candor, heart, wisdom, and an abiding love for a place and a people, Chris La Tray’s remarkable journey is both revelatory and redemptive.

ISBN
9781571313980
Publish Date
Pages
320
Dimensions
9 × 6 × 0.75 in
Weight
17 oz
Author

Chris La Tray

Chris La Tray is a Métis storyteller, a descendent of the Pembina Band of the mighty Red River of the North, and an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. La Tray is the Montana Poet Laureate for 2023–2025 and a former bookseller at Fact & Fiction. He writes the weekly newsletter “An Irritable Métis” and lives near Frenchtown, Montana.

Praise and Prizes

  • “I’m in awe of Chris La Tray’s storytelling. Becoming Little Shell creates a multilayered narrative from threads of personal, family, community, tribal, and national histories. Together they make a story as strong and beautiful as a Metis sash—a story of identity, kinship, and the journey toward justice.”

    Robin Wall Kimmerer
    author of Braiding Sweetgrass
  • “Indigenous identity can be complicated, and Becoming Little Shell compels us into the thick of it—Native people dispossessed of not just land but recognition; blood quantum laws originally crafted to complete a genocide and still wreaking havoc in identity debates today; racism that drove many Native people to disassociate from their families; and descendants, like La Tray, who have found their way back, fighting for the reconnection of their communities and for the observance of their very existence. La Tray is a loving, discerning, curious, funny, and generous guide. This is a beautiful, big-hearted book.”

    Sierra Crane Murdoch
    author of Yellow Bird
  • Becoming Little Shell is a moving, deeply felt, and incredibly detailed account of Chris La Tray’s search for his origins among the Métis, Pembina, and Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Combining memoir, history, interviews, and travel, La Tray gives us nothing less than the history of a people in the form of an absorbing and emotionally searing memoir. This book will, without a doubt, become a classic in Native American literature. Must read.”

    David Treuer
    author of The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee
  • “What I appreciate so much about Chris La Tray’s writing on Indigenous identity and history is the wit, clarity, and integrity embodied in every word. Becoming Little Shell beautifully encompasses a journey that we can all learn from, a journey toward asking better questions about land, belonging, and connection, and through this book La Tray epitomizes historian, poet, and teacher. Full of Indigenous history, personal stories, and the complex dance between the two, La Tray reminds us that the journey of finding ourselves and making sense of the way colonialism plays out around us is an essential part of being human. Please read this book. You’ll be so glad you did.”

    Kaitlin B. Curtice, author of Living Resistance
    Kaitlin B. Curtice, author of Living Resistance
  • “Chris La Tray is a powerful voice—a force of nature, really—to guide us through the swirling confluence of Native and white worlds, both past and present. Becoming Little Shell is the American story of our era—tracing the arc of its author brought up in the white world before discovering his roots as an original inhabitant of this continent.”

    Peter Stark
    author of Gallop Toward the Sun
  • “La Tray’s pride and conviction will have readers eager not only to learn more, but to take action. A brilliant contribution to the canon of Native American literature.”

    Kirkus Reviews, starred review
  • “[A] gripping debut memoir. […] La Tray’s crystalline prose and palpable passion for spreading Indigenous history bolster his account. Readers will be fascinated.”

    Publishers Weekly