An Ojibwe novelist and historian delivers a politically charged, highly readable history of America’s Indigenous peoples after the end of the wars against them.
Native American history, Treuer (Prudence, 2015, etc.) provocatively reminds us, does not end at Wounded Knee, which is usually the last major event concerning Native people that non-Natives can recite. The population of those who identify as Native has increased tenfold since 1900; a third of them are under the age of 18 in a time when many other populations—including white Americans—are aging. “We seem to be everywhere,” writes the author, “and doing everything.” This is not for want of trying otherwise on the part of the federal government, which, at several points in the last 12 decades, has attempted to delist Indian populations and seize reservation lands. Treuer’s account includes many such maneuvers, such as the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, along with episodes of Native resistance that were not always successful. As he notes, for example, the American Indian Movement of the 1970s, born in the cities, often had trouble gaining a foothold on rural reservations such as Pine Ridge: “Despite its focus on reclaiming Indian pride by way of Indian cultures and ceremonies, and by privileging the old ways, reservation communities were not entirely sold on AIM.” Treuer has been through a tremendous amount of literature to write this book, but he’s also been out on the land talking with people in those communities, as with one tough Blackfoot elder he interviewed: “He had the clipped tones of the High Plains along with a kind of ‘Don’t fuck with me’ cadence that I always think of as ‘elderly Indian voice.’ ” Treuer closes his lucid account with a portrait of the “water keepers” who gathered from all over the continent in the hope of protecting Sioux lands against an oil pipeline that, for the moment, has been stalled in its tracks through their efforts.
A welcome modern rejoinder to classics such as God Is Red and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.