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Hire Purpose: David Treuer

Great Spirit

By Pamela J. Johnson
May 7, 2013

David Treuer, professor of English in the Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature program, joined the faculty in Fall 2011. A Pushcart Prize winner, he has written five books of fiction and nonfiction. He’s interested in Native American literature, the 20th-century novel, modernism and creative writing. Illustration by Bill Sanderson.

David Treuer, professor of English in the Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature program, joined the faculty in Fall 2011. A Pushcart Prize winner, he has written five books of fiction and nonfiction. He’s interested in Native American literature, the 20th-century novel, modernism and creative writing. Illustration by Bill Sanderson.

Born to an Austrian Jewish father and American Indian mother, David Treuer is an Ojibwe Indian from Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota.

His siblings range from a brother who has straight, jet black hair and dark skin, to a blond, blue-eyed sister.

“I get to hear lots of things people probably wouldn’t say if I looked like my brother,” said Treuer, who has light skin, brown hair and dark watchful eyes. “I hear how people really feel when they don’t know there’s an Indian in the room.”

Treuer’s most recent book, Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2012), enlightens on Native American issues from sovereignty to treaty rights.

He said no Native American should go through life feeling he or she must apologize for not reflecting the backward image of an Indian on horseback living a pre-reservation life.

“We don’t look a certain way, don’t act or talk a certain way,” Treuer said. “We refuse to live in a teepee and actually live in a house with running water. In English class, we read Macbeth. And we wear shoes and use cell phones.

“Some people can’t quite figure that out. That we, in fact, are contemporary people, not just people of the past.”

In the introduction to Rez Life, Treuer writes that Indian reservations, and those who live on them, are as American as apple pie, baseball and muscle cars.

The Oneida were allies of the Revolutionary Army who fed troops at Valley Forge and helped defeat the British in New York, and the Iroquois Confederacy served as one of the many models for the American constitution, he writes in Rez Life.

“Unlike apple pie, however, Indians contributed to the birth of America itself.”