David Treuer and the book ‘The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee’

The Wounded Knee Massacre in December 1890 has been culturally perceived by many outside Native American as the end of of native culture in North America. In his book January 2019 book The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, Ojibwe (Cherokee) American writer, critic, and academic David Treuer gives us a studied rebuttal to this notion while offering an affirmative, provoking, and defining look into what it means to be a Native American in America.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee 2(Ojibwe American writer, critic, and academic David Treuer wrote the 2019 book The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee).

In rebutting the narrative that Native American culture in America had met its end in 1890, in the Wounded Knee Massacre, David Treuer is taking aim at this notion as articulated in the 1970 Dee Brown book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. The Encyclopedia of World Biography quotes the book by Brown, a non-Native American lacking recognized connections to current native tribes, as “invaluable and extensive impact on how Native American history is viewed.” Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee tells a “story of U.S. government betrayal, forced relocation and massacres,” as quoted in a National Public Radio (NPR) review of The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee 3(An image of the 2019 book The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee).

Treuer takes pains in The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee to show a history that acknowledges external and internal pressures to force Native American assimilation while pointing to adaptation and maintenance of native culture and civilization despite some trying years. Treuer writes “I came to conceive of a book that would dismantle the tale of our demise by way of a new story. This book would focus on the untold story of the past 128 years, making visible the broader and deeper currents of Indian life that have too long been obscured.”

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee 4(Ojibwe American writer, critic, and academic David Treuer on C-SPAN discussing his 2019 book The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee).

The United States and European powers before them justifiably come across as dishonest parties in the larger story of Native Americans in North America in Treuer‘s work.  So does the American Indian Movement, a radical and sometimes violent group from the 1960s and 1970s that sought to aid the political aims of Native Americans. Part of this telling demonstrated with clarity that natives as a collective group are not a single, unified force speaking and thinking with one voice. Treuer gives this history in an attempt to level the narrative with components of truth in recasting the story of what it means to be Native American.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee 5(Ojibwe American writer, critic, and academic David Treuer wrote the 2019 book The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee).

The story that Treur tells speaks of government action through the Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan presidencies. The 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act as signed by President Ronald Reagan allowed Native American tribes to begin administering  gambling. Many natives reference the period before this came to pass as “BC,” as in “before casinos,” wrote Treuer. While certainly profiting some within tribes directly, and skipping past many other natives in the way casino profits are shared, Treuer is careful to indicate that many secondary benefits for natives followed through construction work, improved education for work and a hybrid native and American system, has come from this legislation.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee 6(Ojibwe American writer, critic, and academic David Treuer).

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee comes in at slightly over 500-pages. The work aims to reframe the larger understanding of what it means to be Native American from the perspective of an actual native with sympathies toward the larger sense of civilization that is represented. While the style or message of this effort is not for everyone, the effort work is serious and responsible in its tone, to my Caucasian male 40-something ear. My overall rating for David Treuer‘s work The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is 3.75-stars on a scale of one-to-five stars.

Matt – Saturday, June 15, 2019

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Author: Matt and Lynn Digital Blog

Matt and Lynn are a couple living in the Midwest of the United States.

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