The B&N Podcast: David Treuer on the Untold Story of Native Americans

Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

Today on the podcast, a conversation about the myths and the realities of Native American life, as seen through David Treuer’s fascinating, eloquent, deeply researched and groundbreaking new book, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee. Treuer looks at the stories we’re offered about the nature of Native American life in the era after the closing of the frontier, and argues that we have accepted a poetic and misleading story of tragedy and defeat in place of a much more complex reality – a story that includes injustice, suffering and loss, but also endurance, ingenuity, and the living presence of Native America as part of the modern U.S.A. He draws on history, journalism, his own stories from his family and community to create an unclassifiable, illuminating work. David Treuer joins us in the studio to talk about why this project meant so much to him.

A sweeping history—and counter-narrative—of Native American life from the Wounded Knee massacre to the present.

The received idea of Native American history—as promulgated by books like Dee Brown’s mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee—has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well.

Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present for his nonfiction and novels, David Treuer has uncovered a different narrative. Because they did not disappear—and not despite but rather because of their intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence—the story of American Indians since the end of the nineteenth century to the present is one of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention.

In The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, Treuer melds history with reportage and memoir. Tracing the tribes’ distinctive cultures from first contact, he explores how the depredations of each era spawned new modes of survival. The devastating seizures of land gave rise to increasingly sophisticated legal and political maneuvering that put the lie to the myth that Indians don’t know or care about property. The forced assimilation of their children at government-run boarding schools incubated a unifying Native identity. Conscription in the US military and the pull of urban life brought Indians into the mainstream and modern times, even as it steered the emerging shape of self-rule and spawned a new generation of resistance. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is the essential, intimate story of a resilient people in a transformative era.

More about The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee from The Barnes & Noble Review.

See more books by David Treuer

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Author photo of David Treuer (c) Nisreen Breek.