Native Writer David Treuer
David Treuer (Ojibwe), from Leech Lake Reservation in northern
Minnesota, is the author of three novels: Little, The Hiawatha and
The Translation of Dr. Apelles. He's the recipient of a Pushcart
Prize and fellowships from the National Endowment for the
Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation. Trained as an
anthropologist at Princeton, where he also studied creative writing
under Toni Morrison, he turns his intelligent eye on his Native
culture and history in his most recent book, Rez Life: An Indian's
Journey Through Reservation Life, a nonfiction work that combines
research and reportage
Treuer delves deeply into the tragic past of the reservation system,
and how past policies enacted by the United States continue to ripple
negatively through Native American life today. He also tackles contemporary issues of sovereignty, treaty
rights, natural-resource conservation and gaming.
Treuer writes in his novel Hiawatha, "Simon, lost somewhere in between." Referring to his central protagonist
near the beginning of his novel he introduces the theme at an early stage. Centering on images of place and
placelessness, this theme--like the novel itself--carries pertinence for current understandings of the Native
American novel as a literary form and for critical analyses of tribal fiction.
For Simon--who at the novel's opening has just been released from prison having served a sentence for
fratricide--the physical and emotional sense of placelessness is a burden that will be endured until the closing
scene. Most importantly, the narrative closure at the end of the novel does not offer the customary image of
"the return of the Native," an image that is often read as a panacea to the trials of colonization and is often
now expected by readers of tribal fiction.
Instead Hiawatha--its ending and, the narrative as a whole--confounds undemanding and comfortable notions of
indigenous "return." In this way, the novel engages the stylistic convention of the return, both as this return,
has appeared in Native fiction and as readers have interpreted it. Through a reexamination of the indigene's
relationship to place in his novel, Treuer appears to question the extent to which certain images of place and
notions of home have become conventional to the understanding of Native American literature.
The novel also questions whether works of indigenous fiction have come to "thematize" home in a way that is no
longer pertinent either to the production of fiction or to tribal experiences in the contemporary world. In
this way, his text questions if non-Native readers are more properly responsible for schematizing the notion
of the return by favoring particular and specific literary conventions or books' over more complex and
challenging ones, ones that feature quite different structural compositions.
As such, Hiawatha engages the traditional literary strategies employed by Native American writing, compares
those strategies to earlier narratives (Native American and canonically American) and offers a reassessment
of indigenous novelistic structures. It also effectively engages critical responses to tribal fiction, and does
so in response to the current debate within the field of Native American literary studies.
Evertsen, S. Native American Literatures: An Introduction. 2004.
Treuer, D. The Hiawatha: A Novel by David Treuer. 2000.
Treuer, D. Rez Life by David Treuer. 2013.