Remember when August was the month to kick-back and exhale….and take a little time to prepare for Fall? Maybe take a trip to the lake or beach before it turns cold, before school starts or school sports activities begin to over-schedule the kids?
What happened to that August? I miss it.
Instead, the challenges of 2020 continue. Some good news here and there about a treatment or vaccine, followed by the disappointment of surges, awkward confusion about how to address the underlying fragility in our society in the wake of exposed social injustice and a gridlocked political system…. It makes my head explode just thinking about it all. This is what living in the moment is right now. Constant low level anxiety and worry about loved ones. Following the advise to take control of what I can, I choose to try to educate myself.
Many are taking this moment to embrace the opportunity and imperative to educate ourselves about the injustices that have occurred in our country. Right now, I’ve been reading books about the treatment of Native Americans throughout our nation’s history. I have a few books to recommend if you are interested in learning more, or as in my case re-learning.
Starting with a non-fiction book that covers the history helps. David Treuer, in his book “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee” has taken a broad brush stroke of history to paint a picture of the many tribes and societies that existed here long before the first explorers. It is thorough and a bit dense, but totally absorbing. The resilience of Native Americans and their consistent instinct to make the most of dire circumstances wrought by wrong headed government policies is inspiring. I found it best to read the book over a few weeks, as it made me think and I needed to absorb new facts or reconsider my assumptions about the history I understood to be fact.
I have read other books by David Treuer. He approaches his memoir, “Rez Life, An Indian’s Journey through Reservation Life,” of his boyhood growing up in the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota with a journalists eye. Treuer has a writing style that appeals to me. I learn deeper through storytelling and his non-fiction is filled with character narratives that keep me interested. In Prudence, a book of historical fiction, he portrays how race and class affect the complex relationships of a community in World War II era America.
I’ve read other excellent books that describe growing up Indian. “Mamascatch, A Cree Coming of Age,” the memoir of Darrel J. McLeod, describes the difficult generational wound of his family’s experience with forced boarding schools in British Columbia.
His book reminded me of one of my favorite writers, another Native American writer, Richard Wangamese. His books “Indian Horse” “Dream Wheels” and “Medicine Walk” are works of fiction that deepened my understanding of the upheaval caused by forced assimilation. I just finished “Letter to Joshua,” a heartfelt message filled with spiritual images that he wrote to his son.
The last live book launch I was able to attend before the shut down was March 1st. Louise Erdrich read from her new book “The Night Watchman.” Erdrich has written many books that describe Indian life. This one, brought me full circle as my renewed understanding of the historical treatment of Indians by the US government was fresh in my mind after reading David Treuer. It is the fictional account of her own grandfather’s experience in fighting an unfair government infrastructure. Her characters are compelling; her story complex and important.
Next up is “38 Nooses” by Scott Berg. I’m anxious to read this well respected account of the hanging of 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862 which foreshadowed and shaped later events at Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee.
Along with this non-fiction book, I hope to read the next thriller from Marcie Rendon, whose book “Murder on the Red River” introduced an unlikely Sheriff’s helper named Cash, a 19 year old Native American woman who had been placed in the foster care system at age five after her own mother was declared negligent. “Girl Gone Missing” features Cash again—I can hardly wait.
Just called Birchwood Books, Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, to order it for Curbside Pick-up.
Things are looking up for August!