Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask

Here in Minnesota, and in surrounding states, there is some real tension between Native and Immigrant communities. The poorest, most drug-ridden, down trodden and repressed communities here are often Native, and conveniently these communities tend to be (but not always are) located far away from urban areas or other places with a lot of white eyes. Health in Native communities is of major concern to the usual institutions and people that are concerned with such things.

Indians make White people nervous. White people are either worried that the Indian has kooties, or are criminals or something, or they are worried that the Indians will think poorly of them or feel bad about, you know, all that bad shit that happened between our people. And some of that bad shit, here in the Upper Plains and the far western edge of the Eastern Woodlands, is very recent. From here, I could drive to Wounded Knee II in a day. I've been told that there are still people...white people...in the southern part of Minnesota with curios made of human body parts taken out of the mass grave filled with those executed at the end of the Dakota War of 1862. Many of our historical monuments, homes, and other sites relate to those troubled times. Fort Snelling, the home of one of the Minnesota Historic Society's facilities (a State institution) was one of those forts where the guys in blue uniforms parodied on F Troop garrisoned. That is where Chief Shakopee was killed when the blue uniformed soldiers arranged a "running of the gauntlet," a gauntlet manned by Shakopee's enemies, as a means of executing him. There were starvation camps set up to cause the population of Native people to go down. There are lakes, towns and counties named after the engineers of those concentration camps. I'm thinking that many Native people know a lot more about these things than the White people do. For instance, my in laws, and many of their friends, and several cousins and relatives have cabins on on lakes in Cass County. I think very few of the White people know who Cass was. Lewis Cass, after whom the county and a major lake in the area were named, was one of those architects. I do end up on a Native reservation for several days a year in that area. The reservation is entirely located within Cass County. That would be like having a Jewish homeland in a province or region named after Himmler.

So, why am I talking about this? Because one of Minnesota's own, a professor at Bimidji University, just upstream from Cass Lake, has written a book called Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask. This is not just another white guy talking about Indians. Author Anton Treuer is Native, and I just saw him interviewed on a Minneosta political and news show, and that made me want to get the book. It seems to be a sort of FAQ of questions that a lot of White people have about Indians. I'm not sure how much of a focus there is on this region vs. the country, or North America, as a whole, but in the interview, Treuer did discuss the issue of diversity; a question one might have about Indians could sound fairly dumb if you reversed the situation and said something like "What do White people think about abortion?" or "What kind of cars to White people drive?" .... There are hundreds of Native tribes.

I'm looking forward to learning stuff I didn't know. I'll have to look Anton up and see if he's around during the summer. Maybe we can grab a cup of coffee and swap tales about academia!

Treuer and his book are also written up here, in the Strib.


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I operated the teleprompter for Almanac (the MN political and news show Treuer was on tonight). He was fantastic and his book looks very interesting!

numbers of speakers of indigenous langauges in US, note that plenty are also spoken in Canada and a couple in Mexico. Further note that only some remain in vigorous use by youngsters:


If there are plans to revive some of the smaller languages the effort would be good to include the nearby tribes that have lost their language previously.

Bemidji State University NOT Bimidji University

By R Peterson (not verified) on 05 May 2012 #permalink

Bemidji State University, located in Bemidji Minnesota. The town and University named in celebration and remembrance of the Ojibwe Chief Bemidji. BSU, a State University engages students deeply in the Native culture and history.

Its name derives from the Ojibwe Bay-may-ji-ga-maug (Double-Vowel orthography: bemijigamaag), [5] meaning "lake that traverses another body of water". On occasion,inOjibwe,the cityofBemidji is called Wabigamaang ("at the lake channel/narrows"), because part of the city is situated on the Lakes Bemidji/Irving narrows, located on the south end of Lake Bemidji, and extends to the eastern shore of Lake Irving. Some people also credit the name to Chief Bemidji, a Ojibwe chief.

By R Peterson (not verified) on 05 May 2012 #permalink

My god, you people are demanding. You want me to get the right Century, and you want me to get the name of the school right? What next, speling?

It is interesting that the University is named after a Native American chief AND a geographic location.... your wikipedia entry makes it a bit confusing. I'd like to get the history straight on this.

Chief Bemidji seems to have been a name given later in life to a man who already had a name (Shay-now-ish-kung) who eventually settled on Bemidji Lake, but at a time when the lake was not named. "Bemidji" as an Ojibway term seems to have been applied to the set of lakes (Irving and Bemidji today) and the river crossing through them, because that is essentially what it means.

In other words, and I may have that wrong, Sha-now-ish-kung was linked with the term Bemidji as "The go to guy to get to the place where the river traverses the lake up near that other lake" and later he moved to the 'other' lake (which was also where the water traversed the lake" and the lake and he became known as Bemidji" ... he was not so much an official chief as a headman.

The French called this lake "Lac Traverse, but it was later renamed by the non-French whites "St. Ann's"

Mr. Laden - your post is important, as well as Mr. Treuer' s text. Discussion and debate on this critical cultural and historical issue remains invisible --- as politically intended. Thank you! Your Cass Lake statement says it all...

By R Peterson (not verified) on 05 May 2012 #permalink

I hope I can get that book somewhere. I never did understand why people seem so afraid of the Injuns. I always saw great folks who were somehow kept out of the public education system and prevented from doing all the things that most other folks did. It's as if the government was deliberately trying to prevent entire societies from developing and changing with the times.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 05 May 2012 #permalink

This white guy of pure European descent married an Ojibwa/Cree woman 35 years ago and I've worked as a contract IT consultant on 17 different Canadian First Nations for the last 15 years. Every one of those bands is struggling to one degree or another to make ends meet. Most of them are doing everything they can to develop businesses in urban areas so they don't have to depend on government money. They're also doing what they can to preserve their languages by teaching their kids in band run schools.

Racism is still quite a problem in rural areas, but in urban areas it has been reduced quite a bit over the last 35 years. There is still a very long way to go, my wife still gets dirty looks and stares occasionally.

I remember my brother's ex-wife's mother telling my husband, "you don't look Indian". IIRC, he never spoke to her again.

By Susan Silberstein (not verified) on 05 May 2012 #permalink