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Native American History That Goes Beyond Tragedy

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Wounded Knee Cemetery in South Dakota

Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe speaks with author David Treuer about his book "The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present."

History is dependent on written records and the stories we share. Native American history has been shaped and misunderstood based on a series of cultural assumptions. That's according to David Treuer.

Treuer is an Ojibwe author who is working to correct the largely misinterpreted understandings of Native American culture after the publication of the 1970s novel by Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and other similar works.

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Treuer about his new book, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present. Treuer feels that many of the recorded stories related to Native American history and culture are written through tragic lenses.

“I wasn’t interested in writing a laundry list of abuse. We’ve heard that story before,” Treuer says.

The book discusses several topics from Native American involvement in both World Wars, to casinos, to the ways in which Native Americans are, in fact, American.

“On one hand, America has done its best to destroy Native communities, and on the other hand, this country encompasses and encloses our tribal homeland. By protecting the country, we protect them too,” Treuer says.

Ownership remains a struggle when it comes to Native American land, and Treuer spoke with many people who share the reality that American land is their land.

While the majority of Treuer’s writing works against common misconceptions about native people, it was his priority to explain that not every Native American, or individual who grew up in a Native American tribe, lived a life of constant pain and suffering.

“I wanted to help people imagine other realities for us,” he says. 

This program originally aired on January 29, 2019.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa