The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee ~ by David Treuer

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present
by David Treuer – 2019
512 pages
read by Tanis Parenteau – 17h 44m
rating – 9.5
(both read and listened)

This is an amazing book and although I have some arguments, I generally think this is one which should be read by every educated American – including those with even so much as one Native genome.  

This is for a non-academic audience, and it aims to  “confront the ways we Indians ourselves understand our place in the world” (p. 11). 

He shows why that is vital. And how it’s being done. 
 It’s written as “a hybrid like me: part history, part reportage, part memoir” (p. 14).  

I love reading Native American history from the pre-historic times to books like Treuer’s, which is very contemporary. I’ve read a fair amount and I consider myself moderately well-versed in Native fiction, too.  

Treuer, of Ojibwe and Jewish parents was raised on the  Leech Lake Reservation in north-central Minnesota from where he went to Princeton and on to teach at various universities.  He continues to return to Minnesota. 

The book is mainly saying that the Indian has not died out although his culture has certainly changed over the years and both as a result of the indignity heaped upon him by his white counterparts but also of his own accord.  Indians are a part of today’s America, our culture and heritage . Yup.

That’s what Philip J. DeLoria was saying a few years ago in his 1999 book,  Indians in Unexpected Places.  But Treuer goes after the idea that Indians are everywhere and gets all over it – and under it and on top of it. 

The book goes from the earliest days of people on the American continent(s) to the pipeline thing and Trump era.  The focus is on Indian life and culture since 1890 when the issue was pretty much resolved at Wounded Knee –  aha!  

In spite of the white Americans throwing every bit of their military might behind the challenge,  the Indian did NOT die out then. He did NOT become all assimilated with his land grabbed up then. Nor did that happen in the years following the massacre when the states and the courts tried to void them out by contract and starvation.

They’re ba-aack!  🙂   (IThey never left!).  and we’re soooo much the better for it.   Yes,  it was very problematic for awhile, life looked grim for the country’s original human inhabitants as the new and uninvited arrivals barged in and took over,   but they survived. They even had to survive themselves for awhile (radical movements of the 1960s/‘70s).   But they got recognized for that survival and moved on and are moving on.  

Yes, they got the casinos for themselves and that did help,  but as Treuer shows, that’s not the whole story – not by a long shot.  

However – as it turns out I think Treuer is saying that there is no more Indian culture or they’ve become assimilated.  It gets fuzzy.  

I suppose what bothers me about Treuer is that he glorifies what the Indian has become, but trashes Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie and Leslie Marmon Silko and others of maybe a generation ago.  

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4 Responses to The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee ~ by David Treuer

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    Yes, I think there might be the same conflicts with our Indigenous people. Like any other group in society they have a range of opinions from ‘poor me, I’m a victim and nothing can put that right and you owe us’ to ‘I am strong, and adaptable, and a survivor, and I can live in both worlds.’
    Mainstream society, of course, much prefers the second perspective because it lets them off the hook, but the reality is that there are many shades of opinion along the way.


    • But as a group the natives seem to have gone through some changes, too. And the attitude of the mainstream white society has changed over time. Changed and changed again. And then along comes something like the pipeline – I’ll keep reading Erdrich and the rest of them – it”s fascinating and I love the Minnesota/ND area.


      • Lisa Hill says:

        If I’d ever got to America, it would have been something I’d like to have seen. But quite apart from COVID_19, the USA is off my bucket list forever now, on doctor’s orders because, he says, if I had heart trouble while I was there, it would bankrupt me. (I can’t get travel insurance for it because it’s a pre-existing condition, but in Europe or the UK, I could weather the cost if things went wrong.)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. And I’ll likely never get to Australia so … my health prevents me from even going to Minnesota right now.


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