BRAINERD – Introducing others to the Ojibwe nation and its culture, Bemidji State University professor and author Anton Treuer sought to open a dialogue, without judgment, to create pathways to a future with understanding .
After a brief introduction to his book, “Everything You Wanted to Know About the Indians But Were Afraid to Ask,” on Wednesday, March 9, at the Brainerd Public Library, Treuer opened the presentation by introducing himself in the Ojibwe language.
Explaining what he said in Ojibwe, that his original name means Fox, that he is of the Eagle Clan, and that he is from the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, “the next Rez completed,” Treuer opened his presentation with a laugh.
“It’s weird, but you know, we’re more separated than before desegregation,” Treuer said. “It’s hard to have a good, healthy conversation about building bridges. But it’s more important than ever. »
Attending the packed event was Susan Mezzenga from Pequot Lakes, who said she went to the event hoping to take something to stay with her.
“I think so often there is a tinge of controversy associated with understanding Indian culture and history,” Mezzenga said. “He takes all of that out of the equation. He’s a historian, first and foremost, he just wants to share his experience, his life experience with us in a non-judgmental way.
Treuer said he likes providing background information about himself because everyone sees the world differently, so having a common starting point puts people on a level playing field.
Working to create that common ground is Brainerd Public Library branch manager Laurel Hall, who said she’s excited to have in-person events at the library.
“A lot of restrictions are lifted now and we are really looking forward to still being able to provide people with information. That’s what we’re doing here,” Hall said. “So I wanted to have this incredible opportunity, to be available in person for our community to participate.”
As Treuer was going through his slide presentation, he stopped and showed black-and-white photos.
“A few people from my family tree, pictured here. This guy eventually got the name John Smith, which is ironic, no connection to the one in the Pocahontas mythology,” Treuer said. “…He was here before there was a white colony and he was still here after the return of veterans from the First World War. Think about the changes he has seen over his lifetime. A little incredible.
Treuer said as a child he couldn’t talk about his loved ones because he didn’t learn about his story in school. Instead, he learned how to succeed in the world.
“Cultural norms in school are built around you, which feels normal to you. And so you don’t have to do that extra part (to assimilate). And I think that’s actually what some people really mean when they talk about things like white privilege. It’s not about financial advantage. It’s about the privilege of going to school and the cultural norms are yours. And the stories about those who made America great are your people My people made America great How come I didn’t learn that?
Moving into an open discussion about halfway through his presentation, Treuer answered a question from an audience member about the changing standards of public education in history and the humanities.
Treuer referenced his experience in teaching and said that it is always necessary to have standards, but the references of those standards, good and bad, are continually evolving.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating for teachers because it’s like hitting a moving target, every time you hit your game plan someone moves the target, and you have to change and evolve and things like that” , said Treuer. “But at the same time, our society is changing and evolving.”
Asked about his integration into the reserve, he said that some periods are better than others, but because definitions are created by people, they also change over time. Treuer said Americans used to have a very Anglo-Saxon definition of whiteness and Irish people were considered non-white.
“You can sometimes get it from all directions,” Treuer said. “Like not native enough for natives and not white enough for white people. For me, first of all, there is a race, it is the human race. Human beings were our racial categories. And it’s really messed up and we keep changing the definitions.
To learn more about Treuer, go to antontreuer.com/books. For more information on Brainerd Public Library events, visit Facebook at facebook.com/brainerdpubliclibrary.
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