”The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee,” by David Treuer, Riverhead Books, ISBN 978-1-59463-315-7.
We all know that native people have suffered under a dominant culture for the past five centuries. However, David Treuer makes the point that they have prevailed, and in some cases, even thrived, despite that oppression.
Treuer’s history, “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee,” makes the point that native people are vibrant and alive and making their way in a society that, for hundreds of years, tried to destroy them.
Treuer is Ojibwe from the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota. He has a Ph.D. in anthropology and teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California.
Treuer’s point is that the Dec. 29, 1890, massacre at Wounded Knee, S.D., of men, women and children — many of the men elderly — was not the end of native resistance but the start of native resilience and their ability to survive.
“This book is written out of the simple, fierce conviction that our cultures are not dead and our civilizations have not been destroyed. It is written with the understanding that our present tense is evolving as rapidly and creatively as everyone else’s.”
Like many other native authors, Treuer decries shrinking Indian lands through broken treaties, loss of Indian land through the allotment process and the cultural genocide of Indian boarding schools.
“Perhaps no other aspect of Indian education during the 60 years of the boarding school era is more tragic than the fact that the school grounds at Carlisle and Haskell and all the other schools included graveyards,” said Treuer, later adding, “According to the Meriam Report, Indian children were six times as likely to die in childhood while at boarding schools than the rest of the children in America.”
Native resistance helped them survive. Treuer tells of the Red Lake Ojibwe who refused allotment, the Menominee who kept control of their forest and native people turning back a re-enactment of the Columbus voyage in 1992.
While he criticizes the American Indian Movement’s methods, says Treuer, “Yet much of the work that AIM rank and file had accomplished — in schools and job-training programs and housing — carried on. And somehow — despite AIM’s ineffectiveness, violence and chauvinism; despite the violence that always seemed to erupt around it — by the time the 1980s drew to a close Indian life had become Indian again, due in no small part to the activism begun in the 1960s.”
Treuer also discussed the Dakota Access Pipeline occupation.
This is an important book to anyone interested in Native American studies, history or law. It’s also an inspiring testament to the resilience of native people.