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  • Beauty, Hope, and Joy
  • Duane Niatum (bio)
Rez Life: An Indian's Journey Through Reservation Life. David Treuer. Grove/Atlantic Monthly Press. 330 pages; cloth, $26.00.

David Treuer informs us that his main impetus for writing Rez Life is "to capture some of the history and some of the truth of reservation life." The vastness of the subject took him five years to write, and he depended on many other people to help him complete the story. But he assures us that it is finally his view of reservation life, from his boyhood to the present.

Treuer mentions several interesting things that white society may not be aware of: there are roughly 310 American Indian reservations in the U.S., but not surprisingly, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (B.I.A.) does not know exactly how many reservations there are. This is one reason for the loathing most American Indians have for the B.I.A. The B.I.A. has been a plague to American Indian people since its origin in 1824. Not all the 564 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. have reservations. Reservations as we know them are unique to the U.S. and Canada. The Canadian government calls theirs "reserves."

Truer points out that Indian land makes up 2.3 percent of the land in the U.S. American Indians number slightly over 2 million (up significantly from not quite 240,000 in 1900). He also says that white society has always been fascinated by American Indians, although the majority have never seen an Indian and would not recognize an American Indian if they saw one on the street.

Treuer begins his story focusing on his tribe, the which has been called Chippewa, Ojibway, and Chippeway—but Ojibwe is their name for themselves. He mentions his Ojibwe ancestry stems from his mother's side and that his father is Jewish. His father fled Austria and the Holocaust in 1938 with his parents. His father stopped wandering, married, and had three children, settling just off the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota.

Treuer is straightforward about the reputation of the small village he comes from. He admits that the village once had the highest ratio in the state of felons who had done hard time to people who had not been in jail. He says it is rumored that one in six residents of Bena (population around 140) had done more than ten years in prison. The place is definitely one of local color and dizzying drama.

Ojibwe reservations are found in several states—Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana, and the tribe is one of the largest in the nation. There are reserves in Canada now called First Nations—in Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Some are so tiny, you could walk across them in an hour, and others, such as Red Lake, are larger than Rhode Island.

Culturally, Ojibwe have solid connections to their past life ways—trapping, hunting, and fishing for sustenance. The Ojibwe language is significant even though it was listed in the 1987 Guinness Book of World Records as the most difficult language to learn. The language has given English the words "moccasin," "toboggan," "wigwam," "moose," "totem," and "muskeg." The Ojibwe also created the word for "muskrat."

Reservations, Treuer states, have blanketed the American landscape for centuries. The Delaware were one of the first tribes to receive a reservation in the early 1700s. The reservations grew in number as white settlers pushed west, eventually reaching the Pacific coast, buoyed by the government and mass media's eventual call for Manifest Destiny in 1845. Manifest Destiny was to become the white man's battle cry to settle the West as part of the government's policy of imperialistic expansion. The government encouraged the whites to force or push the Indian tribes who might be in the way to Oklahoma territory, a land at the time whites thought not worth living in themselves. But when [End Page 13] oil was discovered there on Indian land, they quickly changed their tune and swarmed across the state like a wind of locusts.

A very important aspect of reservation life...


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