Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians

But Were Afraid to Ask, Anton Treuer, Borealis Books.

The concept for “Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians …” is simple. The typical non-Native American knows next to nothing about native peoples, right? In response, Anton Treuer — Professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University in Minnesota — has written a book that answers 120 questions about Indians, taking the average person beyond Dances with Wolves to a better understanding of Indian history and culture.

“Indians are so often imagined, but so infrequently well understood,” notes Treuer in the introduction, explaining his rationale for answering the subsequent questions, many having been posed to him following public lectures — and some of which might be considered offensive. He takes on subjects ranging from the historical to the modern, everything from terminology and treaties to stereotypes about substance abuse on reservations.

Especially notable is his discussion of Christopher Columbus, “one of the best known [stories] in our collective history but also one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented in our history books.” Answers to questions about Indian casinos and how casino gambling affects Indian communities will be eye-opening to the uninformed. Naturally, there are also many straightforward queries like: “Did Native Americans scalp?” “Why do Indians have long hair?” And “What is a powwow?”

By writing this book Treuer has become something of an ambassador for Native Americans, a role he accepts with some reluctance, emphasizing that he cannot speak for all Indians and merely “represents the view of one native person.” But in this reviewer’s opinion, he has accomplished his stated goal of “mak[ing] a contribution to breaking down barriers and advancing understanding of Indians for all peoples.”