BookPage starred review, February 2019
Perhaps the most amazing fact about American Indians is that they still survive to this day. Most American Indians regard themselves as indigenous peoples whose land was invaded by European colonial powers. For them, boastful expressions such as “the winning of the West” hearken to the violence, breaking of treaties, introduction of disease and the terror unleashed by settlers and military forces. In his sweeping, consistently illuminating and personal The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, David Treuer, a member of the Ojibwe tribe, offers a compelling counternarrative to popular U.S. history with a combination of reportage, interviews and memoir about American Indian life in the recent past.
After the United States cavalry massacred 150 Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota in the winter of 1890, marking the last major armed conflict between Native American tribes and the U.S. government, it seemed that their culture was at an end. But it survived, albeit with new challenges. Treuer reveals the richness and diversity of Native Indian life and the complexity with which Indians understood their past, present and future after 1890. Native Americans survived for centuries after settlers arrived, displaying a supreme adaptability and toughness, qualities that were crucial between 1890 and 1934, when the government’s weapons against them were cupidity and fraud. Most American Indians did not become citizens until 1924.
There is much to learn here, including the government’s misguided attempts to solve the “Indian problem,” the positive and negative aspects of the American Indian movement and the protest at the Standing Rock Reservation against the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Treuer, who grew up on a reservation in Minnesota, offers reflections on the casino business on reservations and why Indians don’t have a Martin Luther King-type leader.
This engrossing volume should interest anyone who wants to better understand how Native Americans have struggled to preserve their tribes and cultures, using resourcefulness and reinvention in the face of overwhelming opposition.