June 2024

Anton Treuer on writing a Native story about healing

Behind the Book by
Anton Treuer longed to leave the place where he grew up—but once he left, it was only a matter of time before he found his way back.
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I should not know my Native American culture or language. But I am alive. I live my culture. I speak and dream in Ojibwe.

My grandmother, Luella Seelye, was taken from her parents on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota and sent to boarding school as a child, where she was forbidden to speak Ojibwe. She came back to Leech Lake, married and raised a family. My mother, Margaret, grew up trapping, hunting, fishing and harvesting wild rice. Something profound had survived the war on our culture, but something beautiful was severed too.

I grew up at Leech Lake watching my mother become the first female Native attorney in Minnesota. By middle school, the cabin of my younger years (with no running water or electricity) was replaced with a beautiful modern home. Through it all, we harvested wild rice, made maple syrup and hunted. I grew up with books, as well as the woods, a burning sense of justice and ambition.

I went to high school with lots of Native students and many more white students. The racism was inescapable. I wanted to get out of town and never come back. I shocked everyone I knew, myself most of all, by getting into Princeton University. I shocked them again when I graduated from Princeton with a plan to come home and never leave.

I lived with one of our tribal elders, Archie Mosay. He was a teenager the first time he saw a white man, and in his 30s the first time he saw a car. I emerged from that experience fluent in our language and committed to our spiritual and ceremonial life. I have been serving Ojibwe communities in that capacity ever since.

I went to graduate school and became a professor of Ojibwe. I have nine children. My world has been filled with elders and children alike. I am so grateful for all the blessings and beauty in my life.

Where Wolves Don’t Die is the story of Ezra Cloud, a 15-year-old Ojibwe boy who is trying to find himself, while looking for clues to a murder. His family sends him to the Canadian wilderness to run a trapline with his grandfather, where he stumbles into a transformational self-discovery and learns more about his family, his culture and himself. The book is both a tense thriller and a tender coming-of-age story.

I wrote Where Wolves Don’t Die to turn Native fiction on its head. We have so many stories about trauma and tragedy, with characters who lament the culture that they were always denied. I wanted to show how vibrant and alive our culture still is. I wanted to create a story that was gripping but where none of the Native characters were drug addicts, abused or abusing others—one more like the Native life that I know. The oppressions Natives have endured are real, so I kept my work unflinching, but focused on healing. Where Wolves Don’t Die doesn’t just profess, but demonstrates the magnificence of our elders, the humor of our people and the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. I have written over 20 books, but this is my first novel. And it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.

Yi Jiang

Get the Book

Where Wolves Don’t Die

Where Wolves Don’t Die

By Anton Treuer
Levine Querido
ISBN 9781646143818

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