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Ojibwe Writer Celebrates The Beauty Of 'Rez Life'

Novelist David Treuer is the son of an Ojibwe trial judge.
Jean-Luc Bertini
Novelist David Treuer is the son of an Ojibwe trial judge.

Stories about life on Native American reservations often focus on the hardships — alcoholism, drugs, violence and poverty. In Rez Life: An Indian's Journey Through Reservation Life, Ojibwe writer David Treuer strives to capture stories about the beauty of life on reservations.

"We have such fierce attachments to these places," he tells NPR's Neal Conan. "That's what the book is about to some degree — the depth of affection and feeling we have for these places and to have a homeland."

The son of an Ojibwe mother and an Austrian Holocaust survivor, Treuer grew up on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota. Though he acknowledges that reservation life is challenging, he says most treatments of Native American history don't report the good parts of the experience.

"There's this great disconnect between ... how we feel and how we seem," says Treuer.

Treuer, who has written several novels about Native American life, talks about the discoveries in his first work of nonfiction.

Interview Highlights

On the significance of reservations

"It's good to remember, you know, that reservations are ... remnants of our homelands that have been reserved for our use and for us to live on. So these weren't given to us: These are the miniaturized portions of land that has always been ours. And our rights extend to the reservation, but they also extend oftentimes beyond the borders of the reservations."

On the perception of reservations as "places of deficit"

"The truth to me seems to be that reservations are places of surplus. There's more of everything. There might be more hardship, but there's more joy. There might be more pain, but there's more opportunity. There's more of everything, and that's really — that was a great surprise to me."

On the importance of preserving Native American languages

"There are many ways that culture lives on. It lives on through our sense of kinship, through our political systems, through geography and things like that. But one of the prime movers of culture is language, and when your language is imperiled or threatened, then your culture and the very social fabric of your place is threatened. ... I can't speak highly enough about efforts across the country to strengthen and to promote the use of native languages."

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