The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present

by David Treuer

Paperback, 2019

Call number

970.004 TRE



Riverhead Books (2019), Edition: Reprint, 528 pages


The received idea of Native American history--as promulgated by books like Dee Brown's mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee--has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well. Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present for his nonfiction and novels, David Treuer has uncovered a different narrative. Because they did not disappear--and not despite but rather because of their intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence--the story of American Indians since the end of the nineteenth century to the present is one of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention. In The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, Treuer melds history with reportage and memoir. Tracing the tribes' distinctive cultures from first contact, he explores how the depredations of each era spawned new modes of survival. The devastating seizures of land gave rise to increasingly sophisticated legal and political maneuvering that put the lie to the myth that Indians don't know or care about property. The forced assimilation of their children at government-run boarding schools incubated a unifying Native identity. Conscription in the US military and the pull of urban life brought Indians into the mainstream and modern times, even as it steered the emerging shape of self-rule and spawned a new generation of resistance. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is the essential, intimate story of a resilient people in a transformative era.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Lisa2013
This book was incredibly hard for me to rate. I think it deserves a 5. Most of the time the reading experience for me was only a 3 and sometimes a 4, and only occasionally a 5, and sometimes even a 2. I can’t in good conscience give it less than a 4 and it pains for not to give it 5 full
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This should be a history book (and class) in every high school, preferably mandatory – so different from the false histories I was taught when in K-12. Ideally it would be supplemented with other materials and visits by Native Americans giving talks and participating in discussions and answering questions, but this would work as the main book for the classes. It is an important book and I learned so much. I do consider this a “must read” book for everyone, particularly residents of North America, but everyone.

The reason for the docking of a star was that for me it was a really slow read. I always wanted to keep reading and never lost interest but it wasn’t a page-turner for me. It took me 4 weeks to read. I read other books during that time even without them I think it would have taken me nearly as long to read. It’s really, really dense. All crucial information but slow going.

I got hold of the audio edition thinking my reading would go faster if I simultaneously read the hardcover the Overdirve audio edition but I was wrong. I hated the narration. I was shocked to hear a woman’s voice doing the narration; I was expecting a man! This is David Treuer’s story, his family’s story, his tribe/People’s story, and his account of interviews he had with others and his take on history and the present. If it can’t be in his voice it needs to at least be a man’s voice. The narrator’s inflections might be his and I like to think that they are, but it still sounds wrong. So I mostly just continued reading the hardcover book, after giving the audio edition along with the paper edition a fairly long trial period.

I enjoyed his story. I love his parents, including his Holocaust surviving Jewish father.

I wish there were even more but I appreciated all the maps, photos, drawings, pictures that were included. I always love maps in books and those here helped me better understand the narrative.

I almost immediately felt guilty for having loved the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee when I read it decades ago when it was a recently published book. The author makes a compelling case for why that book misrepresents things. More than once in the book he talks about why that book disturbs him.

This book is so packed with information. Only at 100 pages in does the reader reach the subtitle of “1890 to the Present.” The first 100 pages is more distant history. And when people now talk about the Native Americans/Indians of this area or that area, well I had no idea. There were a plethora of tribes/Nations in most areas. Not just the ones remaining in the more recent past. So many! So much change!

When I read the California section I see so many names that are now street names and place names in my city and I want them changed! They should never have been named as they have been!

My favorite parts were the section prior to 1890 and other earlier rather than more recently in history sections or the more present sections because I learned so much. Much of what was written about the mid-1960s to the present I had more awareness going in, though I still learned much and still enjoyed many people’s stories.

There are many exceedingly distressing accounts and there is also a fair amount of humor. The narrative shows the complexity of this history.

The Epilogue and the A Note on Sources were both excellent and made me appreciate the book even more!

I didn’t read all the notes pages 461-488 (I always wish this information could somehow be included in the book proper) or all the index pages 489-511.

In summary, this is a fascinating, informative history of Natives in North America, particularly in the area that is now the United States, from the distant past to the present. I highly recommend it. I wish I’d had history taught to me like this when I was in school. (This is a book written with adult readers in mind but I think it’s fine for high school and up.) I want to read even more on this subject. I can’t do this book justice in a review. It’s so full of information, history, stories. Highly recommended
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LibraryThing member Narshkite
This is an imperfect book, and yet it is absolutely extraordinary. Truer has given us the history of America's indigenous people, attempting with admirable success to tell the stories of many different nations, as impacted by European imperialism. The majority of what is here is history I never
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learned, and I am someone who has actively tried to gain this knowledge. Of course its a series of terrible tales, more shameful than I could have imagined. As far as I know the material in this book has never been taught to a single American schoolchild. (I do have a couple friends who went to rez schools, and I will need to ask them if they knew all of this.) Every American should be taught this history, it is essential to understanding America. With this book Treuer seeks to change the narrative of Indians as victims, a narrative with its popular genesis in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Instead Treuer tells us the story of resilient peoples. Indians who faced unimaginable violence and oppression and soldiered on.

To create this narrative of resilience Treuer blends history with memoir, social science, modern oral history, and political philosophy. While I understand his choice, in my opinion Treuer tries to do too much, and it makes it hard to follow the book in parts. As a reader I found I wanted more history, and suddenly I was listening to the personal stories of modern Indians. Again, I get that these modern stories illustrate the costs of the history described, and the power and resilience of communities who have had their land stolen, their citizens murdered, and their good faith mocked for hundreds of years. Still, I think this approach muddied everything, this should have been two books. Still, it was a perspective changing read which I know I will reread. It turns out to be one of the best reads of the year for me, but if it had been streamlined I think it would have been on my best ever reads list.
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LibraryThing member muddyboy
This is a great book about native Americans in the United States since the Wounded Knee massacre. The author begins with precolonial native life up to Wounded Knee but focuses and what has happened since. The author has done a vast amount of research on a plethora of tribal groups across the United
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States. There are extensive interviews with tribal elders, leaders and regular folks.. The author's thesis seems to be that while natives have suffered a myriad of injustices he sees a Renaissance in native culture, strength and in population growth occurring currently. I learned a lot.
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LibraryThing member Mike__M
David Treuer should be widely applauded across America for this book. His introduction, especially, is important. This is a book about survivors. If I could summarize, I'd say "After all they've done, we're still here. Get used to it."

We need more Native writers being praised for presenting a
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positive view, precisely because that's not what the general public wants and expects. As the title directly addresses, readers are too accustomed to the "Bury my Heart" Indian, the beaten, downtrodden, end-of-the-trail, relic Indian. It's time to meet the real thing: adaptive, resilient, modern.

Yes, there is a lot of information here; you knew it's not all pretty; now see how it's not all in the distant past. We're still making history today -- did you know there is a Diné citizen running in the 2020 Presidential race?

While much of this history may be new if you haven't made an effort to learn Native history or Federal Indian Law, everyone in the U.S. should know this stuff, at least in broad outlines; if you don't, you're uninformed. Furthermore, if you live in the U.S. there is probably even more you should know about the specific history of your own neighborhood. Do you know it? Do you know what language belongs to your land? If you don't speak it, can you explain and justify that fact? If you own property, can you trace the title back to a fair and legitimate transfer from the indigenous nation? You may not know your local history, but it's very possible that someone is still around who does. They may be living next door.
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LibraryThing member Hccpsk
My favorite non-fiction books usually combine a strong personal narrative within the subject matter, and David Treuer does just that in The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee. Treuer grew up on a reservation in Minnesota, and he weaves the stories of family and friends into the brutal history of Native
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Americans. Treuer does an excellent job of chronicling hundreds of years of injustice and mistreatment with lots of primary documents and interviews. His intimate connection to the material and interesting outlook on current events definitely heightens the book. I highly recommend this to non-fiction readers who want to expand their understanding of Native American events and history.
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LibraryThing member LibroLindsay
Essential reading. I really appreciated its scope and found it so much more engaging than the book it aims to reframe.
LibraryThing member arosoff
There's been a lot of attention recently to how poorly we are taught about the history of race in America. Much of that focuses on our relationship with African-Americans. Our knowledge of American Indian history and culture is even poorer. Treuer's book made me realize how ignorant I am--and at
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that, I probably knew more than a lot of Americans.

The initial section is a potted history of Indians prior to 1890, the year of Wounded Knee. It's interesting and points up a lot of details that are often omitted to school kids--not just the history of broken treaties, but the ways the US government moved many tribes and effectively created some modern groups by pushing tribes together. Treuer's book emphasizes the diversity of Indian life and culture.

As the book progresses towards modern times, it becomes less a traditional history, and more about the stories of Indians themselves. The politics are covered fairly thoroughly, but Treuer allows Indians from different parts of the US to tell their own stories and remind us that Indians aren't just historical figures, but part of a living culture that has changed and adapted over time both through coercion and by choice.
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LibraryThing member Bodagirl
I remember liking or at least learning a lot from Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, but Treuer's framing of his work as a response to rather than a continuation of it is absolutely necessary. Treuer's juxtaposition of living Native Americans with historical events post Wonded Knee drives home
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his point that while it is important to know the history of his people - they should not be relegated just to the past.
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