In a book that is part memoir, part journalistic exposé and part cultural history, novelist Treuer (The Translation of Dr. Apelles, 2008, etc.) offers a movingly plainspoken account of reservation life.
The author intertwines stories of growing up on the shores of the Lake Leech Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota with those of the Ojibwe people and other Native American tribes. Treuer writes that “[m]ost often rez life is associated with tragedy”; at the same time, he notes that it is also shot through with pride and a profound love of tradition. Alternating between personal recollections of unforgettable “rez” personalities—e.g., tribal police officers, rice-gatherers and fishermen—and sharp-eyed historical analyses of events in Native American history, the author sheds light on aspects of Indian culture closed to most non-Natives. He speaks candidly about the “comforting trouble” he finds at the heart of his own mixed-race family and the perennial problems of alcoholism, poverty and crime facing reservation dwellers everywhere. Treuer also delves into the issues surrounding Native American sovereignty and treaty rights, examining the inhumane—and sometimes genocidal—government policies that have led to the systematic abuse, exploitation and disenfranchisement of Native Americans. The author soundly critiques tribal governments as well, focusing in particular on the corruption and cronyism that characterizes so many of them. For most of these entities, “there is no balance of power; on the contrary power is very much out of balance.” That Treuer is one of a few Native Americans to have made it out of the “rez” only adds to the book’s poignancy. He examines a culture that is in crisis, but persists, even thrives, with enduring grit and courage.
Powerful, important reading.