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Rez Life

This unvarnished mix of journalism, history, and memoir tells hard truths about life on America's Indian reservations.

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Rez Life:
An Indian’s Journey through Reservation Life
By David Treuer
Atlantic Monthly Press
330 pp.

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“Leech Lake is a big reservation – forty miles by forty miles, peppered with lakes large and small, and broken in half by the slow shallow course of the northern Mississipi River,” writes David Treuer of the northern Minnesota Indian reservation that is his home. “We passed two of our casinos (we have three) on the drive to my house on the northwestern edge of the reservation.” Despite the casinos, however, Treuer points out, Leech Lake is not an affluent place. “My reservation will be poor for a long time, maybe forever,” he predicts.

There are 310 Indian reservations scattered across more than 30 states in the United States. Treuer’s goal in Rez Life – an unvarnished and discomforting mix of journalism, history, and memoir – is to help all of us non-Native Americans understand a bit more about them.

Twelve Indian reservations are bigger than the state of Rhode Island and nine are larger than Delaware, notes Treuer. Indian land makes up 2.3 percent of the land in the US and there are more than two million Native Americans living in the US. Yet for the most part, writes Treuer, “it is pretty easy to avoid us and our reservations.”

Although Treuer did grow up mostly on the Leech Lake reservation, his experience is hardly what most of us would think of as representative of reservation life. Treuer’s father was an Austrian Jewish survivor of the Holocaust who met Treuer's mother – an Ojibwe tribal court judge – while teaching at a reservation high school. Treuer graduated from Princeton University in 1992. Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison was his senior thesis adviser at Princeton and since graduating Treuer has written three novels.

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