Sunday, April 15, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: REZ LIFE by DAVID TREUER


I just finished reading Rez Life by David Treuer and wanted to share my thoughts on it.

David Treuer is a member of the Ojibwe tribe from the Leech Lake Reservation here in Minnesota. As I understand, this is the authors first full length work of nonfiction. Out of all the books I've read either written by or about Native Americans I found this one to be the most thorough when it came to describing not only the Native experience on the reservation but the historical perspective as well. Treuer does an excellent job educating the reader on Treaty rights, Tribal government, Sovereignty and the Gaming industry. He doesn't hold back on any front; shares the good and bad about his own people, exposes the numerous injustices against tribes not only by the American Government in history but by government and individual people today. I definitely came away from this book with a better understanding of what it must be like to grow up on a reservation and why so many Native Americans have an innate distrust of white people.

The only issue I had with the book is the author using the word "greed" to describe members of the Mdewakanton tribe. Now of course I'm not Native American. I don't have an insiders perspective when it comes to the gaming industry or "blood quantum" but I do know tribal members and I have to say this.

In the book David Treuer talks about Mdewakanton Sioux having 250 enrolled members and states that the tribe excludes 20,000 eligible enrollees (according to blood quantum rules in the books). He said that the 20,000 have appealed to the tribe and been rejected so many of them have now brought lawsuits against the Mdewakanton Sioux. He goes on to mention that the Mdewakanton members each make $80,000/month from casino profits and if they were to allow the additional members into the tribe it would cut their share of revenue to $1,000 each/month. He concludes with "they are as greedy as any other Americans."

I won't debate that Native Americans can be greedy because some most certainly are, as are European Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans, so on and so forth; greed exists within all groups of people. I will take issue though with the impression the authors statement leaves on the reader.

There is more to the limited member allowance than David Treuer would like to acknowledge or maybe is aware of. Without going into too much detail I will give an example of what I'm referring to:

You are a family of 10, with 2 parents and 8 children. There are 4 boys and 4 girls. Your family is extremely poor. You live on 10 acres of land. Mom and dad ask all of their children to help with the land by planting, harvesting, tending to the animals, etc... but only 2 boys and 2 girls stick around to help out. The other 4 children leave the family to pursue other interests and don't return, even though they are well aware that the rest of the family is working hard to survive on those 10 acres and is in desperate need of their help. One day the family living on 10 acres discovers gold on their property and becomes filthy rich; they can have anything they've ever dreamed of. When the 2 boys and 2 girls that left the family hear of the great news they rush back home looking to cash in along with their parents and siblings that spent years taking care of each other. Do you think the kids that returned home deserve a cut of the profits just because they are related? I personally don't.

I think that David Treuer was focussing on legalities and facts, which a good journalist will do. His book is definitely the best I've read on Native issues and he certainly did his research but unfortunately there are people that reach for these books as a way to understand the Native experience and referring to people as "greedy" doesn't help matters especially when describing a tribe like the Mdewakanton. Last year the Mdewakanton donated $30 million to various groups throughout the United States. $12 million went to "the University of minnesota to help build its football stadium and fund scholarships" and "in a move to address the gross imbalance that exists in casino prosperity between metro-fringe tribes and those in more remote spots $1 million grants were given to tribes in Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Montana and North Dakota." (Star Trib. 4/15/12) So I think we need to be careful when putting "greed" and Mdewakanton in the same sentence.

Other than that one little tid bit, I highly recommend this book.