The least -- and most -- American of places: A review of Rez Life

  • Rez Life

 

Rez Life: An Indian's Journey Through Reservation Life
David Treuer
368 pages, hardcover: $26.
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2012.

Accomplished novelist David Treuer turns to nonfiction in his latest book, which combines elements of his own life on "the rez" with a historical look at North American Indian life over the past several hundred years. Since "most people will go a lifetime without ever knowing an Indian or spending any time on an Indian reservation," the author hopes to give readers not only a better understanding of American Indians, but also of the U.S. itself. Not surprisingly, Treuer focuses on his own tribe, the Ojibwe. Found from Michigan to Montana, the Ojibwe Indians are some of the least-mentioned Native Americans in history, despite their cultural contributions: the birch-bark canoe, snowshoes, and words like "moccasin," "moose" and "toboggan."

Rez Life offers an in-depth look at the practical, everyday realities of reservation life, providing detailed descriptions of walleye fishing, harvesting wild rice, and making maple syrup. At times, the reader becomes immersed in painful and even heartbreaking scenes, including the suicide of Treuer's grandfather and tragic accounts of robberies and murders, illegal drug use, alcoholism and extreme poverty. Yet even in the midst of his most personal stories, Treuer keeps the larger picture in mind, offering thorough reportage on the unjust treatment Native Americans have received from the United States government. Although the broken promises and ignored treaties are common knowledge, Treuer's extensive retelling of this history serves to emphasize its lasting effects on the entire Indian population.

But Treuer also shows that "what one finds on reservations is more than scars, tears, blood, or noble sentiment. There is beauty in Indian life, as well as meaning and a long history of interaction." The past and the present are conjoined; one could not exist without the other. "Nowhere more than in reservation life can we see, can we feel, the past shaping the present," Treuer writes. "On the reservation the past is hardly past at all."

Powerful and eloquent, Rez Life offers an exhaustive look at one neglected tribe and its place in Indian history, as well as an analysis of the forces that have shaped and continue to shape the West and the nation as a whole.

High Country News Classifieds
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • WYOMING CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    We are hiring a Wyoming Conservation Associate Full time, competitive pay and benefits. Location: Cody, WY (preferred), Jackson, WY, or Lander, WY Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for...
  • SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • DIRECTOR OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
    This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • PROGRAM OFFICER, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES, NOVO FOUNDATION
    The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • ARMY OF THE DOG
    A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • ANNIE CLARK TANNER FELLOWSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • IDAHO RIVERFRONT:
    2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS IS EXPANDING - THREE JOB OPENINGS
    Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • SUNNYSIDE MARKET SEEKS NEW PROPRIETOR
    Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • NO INDIVIDUAL HEROES: OURAY MOUNTAIN RESCUE TEAM
    Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM MANAGER - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, SOUTHERN CA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • THE BOOK OF BARLEY -
    Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • TEMPORARY ASSISTANT EDITOR
    Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • RIVER TRIP LEADER & EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...