In “Warrior Nation,” Anton Treuer tells of the Ojibwe people’s migration from the East Coast to “the land where food grows on water,” a 2,000-mile journey to northern Minnesota that took many centuries and resulted in conflict with the Dakota Indians.
He tells of the Old Crossing Treaty of 1863 and other land cessions that reduced the Red Lake Ojibwe’s territory from 20 million acres to less than 1 million, and he recounts the roles played by condescending missionaries and conniving politicians.
He explains the uneasy relationship between the reservation and the city of Bemidji and the tribe’s resistance to allotment, the federal government’s attempt to break up and parcel out Indian land.
Red Lake today remains a closed reservation where the land is held in common, while other reservations have become checkerboards of native and nonnative land ownership.
This is history told with a distinct point of view. Treuer writes about duplicity and betrayal by white politicians and business interests in the land cessions; the noble agendas and worthy achievements of strong but controversial Red Lake leaders, and the historic dispute concerning control of the namesake lake.
When Chief He Who Is Spoken To and other tribal leaders met with government negotiators in 1889, “They would sign nothing unless it protected the exclusive tribal ownership of both Upper and Lower Red Lake,” Treuer writes.
“Today, a third of Upper Red Lake is excluded from the reservation boundaries. There are white homes and resorts along the shore at Waskish, on Upper Red Lake.” The people of Red Lake “bear no ill will against the white residents there, but they know the land rightfully belongs to them.”
Treuer, professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, has written 14 books on tribal history, language, sovereignty and culture, including “Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask.”
His judgment of the late Roger Jourdain would be challenged by some who found the longtime chairman abusive, dictatorial, even corrupt. “He was hilarious and charming, but he was also a hard man,” Treuer allows, “the kind who made you feel safe when he was standing by your side, fighting for your land and political rights, and the kind who made you very uncomfortable when you stood in his way.”
The book goes deep on some aspects of Red Lake history but treats only briefly the event that most outsiders, unfortunately, have heard most about: the 2005 shootings at the high school, which left 10 dead.
Treuer is critical of the “unbearable” media attention that tragedy brought. “To many people at Red Lake it seemed like the outside world was blaming the entire reservation for what happened.”
“Warrior Nation” would have been a helpful resource that somber day.
Chuck Haga, a former Star Tribune reporter who covered the 2005 Red Lake shootings and aftermath, lives in Grand Forks, N.D., where he teaches media writing at the University of North Dakota.
By: Anton Treuer.
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 288 pages, $19.95.
Event: Book launch, 7 p.m. Oct. 20, Minnesota History Center, 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul.