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Climbing out of the hole of 200 years of history
on January 28, 2012
David Treuer's book Rez Life, is a very readable "hybrid...of journalism, history, and memoir." The style is journalistic, in which specific aspects of "rez life" are illustrated through interviews and accounts of individuals, with bits of history thrown in to illustrate how specific conflicts and situations arose. The pieces of memoir arise because much of the book is about the reservations of the author's own tribe, the Ojibwe, and the body of the book is bracketed by the suicide of his maternal grandfather at the beginning of the book, and the burial at the conclusion.
Often in the journalism, and invariably in the history, the reaction of the reader is likely to be outrage, though the telling is straightforward. It is hard to construe the actions of the U.S. Government (and the inaction/inertia of the Bureau of Indian Affairs) in a positive light. Or indeed, as anything other than disgraceful. It's also hard to avoid the conclusion that, when Congress passed laws to ostensibly help the Indian, the effect was generally to make things worse. However, the author seems hopeful, as if the bottom has been reached and that the Native Americans now have the potential to climb out of the hole of 200 years of history.
Those looking for a more authoritative history of US-Indian relations should probably look to the sources that the author mentions in the end-notes. This book seems to be trying to capture, with obvious love and affection, the good and the bad of modern reservation life. On those grounds, it succeeds.
The book does not raise this issue, but my lasting thought was one of morality: how should a government "make things right" after literally hundreds of years of doing the wrong thing at nearly every turn?