Treuer teaches Native history

Last week, young children throughout America glued colored construction paper into “feather headdresses” for Thanksgiving day celebrations. Following this season based upon myths, Bradley students had the opportunity to learn more about Native Americans.

Anton Treuer is a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, author of 14 books, father of nine and a popular speaker who has presented internationally.

A member of the Ojibwe nation from Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, he spoke candidly from the perspective of a Native American about the topics addressed in his 2012 publication, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask.” This lecture served as part of the history department’s ongoing Armstrong Lecture series.

Libby Tronnes, assistant professor of history, has been assigning this book in her classroom for years.

“I think it’s one of the few [books I assign] that students actually like having on their shelves; they keep it,” Tronnes said.

To the bewildered faces of a completely packed room in Westlake Hall, Treuer began his presentation by casually speaking in his native language of Ojibwe.

“They asked me to come share a little time with you today; they didn’t say anything at all about doing it in a foreign language like English,” Treuer said. “It’s always weird to me that it’s my language that sounds foreign, exotic and ‘what’s he doing?’”

This led him into detailing the issues regarding general representations of Native Americans, starting with the fact that whole disciplines about Natives were formed by what white army officers wrote in their journals.

Treuer relayed his own personal stories, showing he even faced racism and prejudice while attending Stanford University. He said that examples like this only help to prove his point that America is more segregated now than ever, and that immigration policies are “political theatre.”

“So we gotta do more of what everyone here is doing tonight: showing up, leaning in, asking questions … read a book, get an education, travel,” Treuer said. “All those things are fatal to prejudice and will help better equip everyone to do some problem-solving.”

The earlier portion of the presentation served as a framework for the crowd to ask uninhibited questions about various topics from mascots to casinos to Standing Rock, with a disclaimer from Treuer: “I have a house full of Native people, and I never know what they’re thinking. I represent one human being.”

Students seemed eager to ask questions.

“How do you forgive?” someone asked. “How do we … help?”

Treuer explained that for Native Americans to accept and forgive is an individual journey to wrestle with. He said that the help anyone of privilege can offer is to surrender advantage to provide opportunity for those who have fewer advantages.

Treuer’s book has the answers to more questions one may have related to Native Americans.

“There’s an age-old assault on our very way of being,” Treuer said.

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