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Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask

By Anton Treuer

Publication Year: 2012

“I had a profoundly well-educated Princetonian ask me, ‘Where is your tomahawk?’ I had a beautiful woman approach me in the college gymnasium and exclaim, ‘You have the most beautiful red skin.’ I took a friend to see Dances with Wolves and was told, ‘Your people have a beautiful culture.’ . . . I made many lifelong friends at college, and they supported but also challenged me with questions like, ‘Why should Indians have reservations?’ ” What have you always wanted to know about Indians? Do you think you should already know the answers—or suspect that your questions may be offensive? In matterof-fact responses to over 120 questions, both thoughtful and outrageous, modern and historical, Ojibwe scholar and cultural preservationist Anton Treuer gives a frank, funny, and sometimes personal tour of what’s up with Indians, anyway. • What is the real story of Thanksgiving? • Why are tribal languages important? • What do you think of that incident where people died in a sweat lodge? White/Indian relations are often characterized by guilt and anger. Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask cuts through the emotion and builds a foundation for true understanding and positive action.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

Half Title Page

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Title Page

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pp. vii-xiv

2nd Half title page

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pp. xv-xvi

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Introduction: Ambassador

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pp. 1-6

Indians. They are so often imagined, but so infrequently well understood.
I grew up in a borderland. My family moved a couple times, but we usually lived on or near the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota. I went to school in the nearby town of Bemidji with plenty of other native kids and many more whites...

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pp. 7-14

What terms are most appropriate for talking about North America’s first people?
The word Indian comes from a mistake: on his first voyage to the Americas, Columbus thought the Caribbean was the Indian Ocean and the people there were Indians. The use of the word and assumptions around it are well documented in Columbus’s

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pp. 15-38

How many Indians were in North and South America before contact?
The shortest and most honest answer to this question is that nobody knows for sure. Genomic and archaeological research is starting to give us more accurate information about how many groupings of people there were and the size of the communities...

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Religion, Culture & Identity

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pp. 39-67

Why do Indians have long hair?
There are around five hundred distinct Indian tribes in North America, and their cultural beliefs are diverse. For many Native Americans, hair was viewed as a symbol of spiritual health and strength. Leonard Moose, an Ojibwe elder from Mille Lacs, said...

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pp. 68-78

What is a powwow?
The word powwow is actually derived from a term for spiritual leader in the Narragansett and Massachusett languages but was later misapplied to many types of ceremonial and secular events. Although Ojibwe drum ceremonies and traditional...

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Tribal Languages

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pp. 79-85

How many tribal languages are spoken in North America?
There may have been as many as five hundred distinct tribal languages in North America prior to sustained contact with Europeans. There are now around 180, but the number is shrinking quickly. All world languages are members of families, such...

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pp. 86-127

What is sovereignty?
Sovereignty means supreme and independent authority over a geographic area. Indian nations are sovereign because they have such power and control over reservations. Tribal sovereignty is the basis for most fundamentally different legal and political...

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pp. 128-137

Do Indians get a break on taxes, and if so, why?
Some Indians do get a break on some taxes—but of course, it’s complicated. All Indians, whether they are enrolled members or not, must pay federal income tax. All Indians must also pay property taxes in the county or municipality in which they own...

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pp. 138-145

What were federal residential boarding schools?
One of the most pernicious dimensions of the war on Indian culture was the residential boarding school system.1 Beginning in the late nineteenth century, missionary, military, and government officials advocated for the removal of Indian children...

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Perspectives: Coming to Terms and Future Directions

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pp. 146-158

Why are Indians so often imagined rather than understood?
Part of the story is simple math. American Indians are a very small percentage of the global population and even a small percentage of the U.S. population. In some parts of the country, one is likely to run into an Indian. But for most Americans...

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Conclusion: Finding Ways to Make a Difference

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pp. 159-164

How can I help?
Sometimes the brambled racial borderland of my youth seems as impenetrable as it ever was. Indians remain imagined more than they are understood. Public and political backlash against Indian casinos and treaty rights is still obvious. Indians are still...

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pp. 165-166

My time devoted to this project was in part enabled by support from the American Philosophical Society, the Bush Leadership Fellows Program, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.
Thank you to Michael Meuers for suggesting the title for this book and the lecture series that inspired it and for his leadership in promoting bilingual signage in Bemidji along with Rachelle...

Recommended Reading

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pp. 167-170


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pp. 171-178


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pp. 179-190

Illustration Credits

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pp. 191-192

Back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780873518628
E-ISBN-10: 0873518624
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873518611
Print-ISBN-10: 0873518616

Page Count: 188
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1