Monday, November 10, 2014


Anton Treuer's Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask is one of the books I think every teacher ought to have on her shelf, and that every library ought to have, too, in multiple copies.

Published in 2012 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, the information in Treuer's book is presented in a question/answer format. If you've already got Do All Indians Live in Tipis from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), add this one to your shopping cart or order form right away. Though there is some overlap (both, for example, discuss use of "American Indian" versus "Native American"), there are definitely a lot of things that are not in the NMAI book, and, because Treuer is Ojibwe, we get more depth on that nation, in particular.

The contents of the book are in question/answer format, with the questions ones that Treuer is asked in lectures and workshops. He's the executive director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State in Minnesota.

Here's the table of contents:

Introduction: Ambassador
Religion, Culture & Identity
Tribal Languages
Perspectives: Coming to Terms and Future Directions
Conclusion: Finding Ways to Make a Difference

Some highlights:

In History, Treuer addresses the land bridge theory of the continent's first inhabitants by pointing to new research of archeological sites that forces us to reconsider that theory. He also answers the oft-posed question "why does it matter" when Indians got here. He says that the question itself is one whose subtext is that everyone is immigrant to this continent, and as such, is an attempt to undermine Native Nations.

In Perspectives, Treur takes on the "my great grandmother was a Cherokee princess" statement that so many of us hear. He does the usual rebuttal that royalty is not part of Cherokee societal structure, but he also says this:
If your great-grandmother was Cherokee, then one of your grandparents was too, and one of your parents, and in actuality you are Cherokee as well. Someone who truly identifies with his or her native ancestry will say, "I am Cherokee."
He goes on to say that the "my great grandmother" statement, though well-intended, demonstrates a level of ignorance about Cherokee history and culture, and posits that those who have actually investigated that family story and Cherokee culture would come away saying "I'm Cherokee" (if the story is legitimized) and would abandon the "princess" claim because it is not valid.

In the Conclusion, Treuer writes about a grassroots effort amongst local businessmen in Bemidji to add Ojibwe words to their signage. A simple action, it brings visibility to a people and their language that is rare. And, it welcomes Ojibwe people in ways that affirm who they are. Here's a photo from the book, showing the signage at the hospital:

If you want to make your classroom, school, or library more welcoming to Native peoples, signage is a good option. A couple of years ago, I pointed to a number of resources you can turn to do that.

If you've got a choice, I encourage you to get Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask from an independent bookstore like Birchbark Books.

I like Treuer's book. He writes directly and conveys nuances to, amongst the 500+ federally recognized tribal nations. I highly recommend you add it to your collections.

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