Book of the week
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America From 1890 to the Present
Despite what you may have heard, the history of Native American peoples did not end in 1890 with the Massacre at Wounded Knee, said Karen Long in Newsday. Happily, “the truth is much livelier,” and in his sweeping account of how American Indians have endured and even thrived over the past 128 years, novelist and anthropologist David Treuer “kicks hard” against a story cemented in the public’s consciousness by Dee Brown’s 1970 book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Yes, the Ojibwe author concedes, the slaughter of 150 Lakota by U.S. cavalrymen marked a nadir for indigenous peoples, inflicted by a government that had aimed to annihilate them. But Native America didn’t cease to exist, said Ned Blackhawk in The New York Times. Treuer’s “moving and kaleidoscopic” portrait of its resilience suggests we need to rethink once again how U.S. history is told.
When those past 128 years are his focus, “Treuer’s storytelling skills shine,” said The Economist. But he opens the book with a “dry but necessary” summary of the destruction that white colonizers visited upon the continent’s original inhabitants. After 1890, the nation tried solving its “Indian problem” by tearing Native American children from their families and sending them to boarding schools created to accelerate assimilation. The plan backfired, as the students also forged a new pan-Indian identity, reinforcing a similar dynamic arising among Native Americans who joined the U.S. military. As the story progresses, “Treuer’s cast is vivid,” said Hamilton Cain in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Sitting Bull makes a cameo, but so does Ira Hayes, one of six Marines who famously raised the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima, and Sean Sherman, the award-winning Sioux chef currently reviving lost culinary traditions.
Treuer isn’t afraid to take on Native Americans who’ve served their people poorly, said Tom Bowman in NPR.org. Though he endorses the civil rights mission of the American Indian Movement, he denounces the group’s violence. Similarly, he calls out financial corruption among some of today’s tribal leaders. When Treuer surveys today’s Native American population, said Barbara Spindel in BarnesAndNobleReview.com, he sees many people trapped in poverty, but he also finds hope. He sees a nation of 5 million people—up from 200,000 in 1900—who recently helped send the first two Native American women to Congress and who are readier than ever to create a bright future. “It’s a message whose time has come.” ■