Rez Life: An Indian's Journey through Reservation Life

Article excerpt

Rez Life: An Indian's Journey Through Reservation Life. David Treuer. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2012.

Misconceptions and stereotypes about Native Americans abound in American culture and are, at least in the context of scholarly research, related to the fact that most studies of indigenous American culture, history, and social life have been written by cultural outsiders. Within this studier vs studied dichotomy, the voice of the cultural insider is typically muted, or at best translated (often with significant loss of meaning), and projected into a discourse governed by narratives of dominance from outside. For Native Americans, this means having to deal with a unified constructed identity of "Indianness," which only is meaningful as a signifier of the colonial bond between settlers and indigenous people, and which subsumes tribal affiliation and identity under the umbrella term "Indian." Gerald Vizenor's half-mocking term "postindian identity" signifies the commonality constructed between Indian tribes in the face of EuroAmerican misconceptions and stereotypes, while at the same time recognizes tribal cultures as disparate and heterogeneous.

By addressing this historical context and the problems of representation associated with it, David Treuer's Rez Life: An Indian's Journey Through Reservation Life offers an important insider perspective on what it means to grow up on an Indian reservation in America today, and the social and political issues regarding treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, gaming and other gambling operations with which many contemporary reservations wrestle. However, despite its broad scope, Rez Life is not a sweeping survey of Indian reservations in general, but mainly a situated study of Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, where Treuer (who is Ojibwe) grew up. He mixes personal memoir of growing up on Leech Lake Reservation with research on the historical and social background of reservations to produce a compellingly sharp, persuasively argued, multifaceted portrait of a contemporary American social reality of which few outsiders are aware. …