Treuer '91 lectures on Native American experience in inaugural Speaker Series| Nov 15, 2015
The University's Native American inclusion and recruitment efforts have improved since 1991 but still fall short, Dr. Anton Treuer ’91 argued in the inaugural lecture for the Native Leaders Speaker Series on Friday.
Treuer said that the Native American experience is usually one of marginalization and invisibility. He explained that what people think of Native Americans is often imagined rather than real, noting the “noble savage” and the “ignoble savage” as examples of stereotypes that Native Americans face.
“Even today some people think Indians are all rich from casinos and some think Indians are all living in squalor on reservations, and of course the truth is actually complicated,” Treuer said.
He noted that Native Americans are often perceived as people of the past, which contributes to the invisibility.
“I think it’s important to remember, too, that most of the stories that pop up going to school K-12 or in the mainstream media are stories of loss and tragedy, and they’re also stories that happened before 1900,” he said. “So it’s really easy for people to think that Indians are something that happened in the past. It’s important to remind people we’re still here.”
He then discussed the bigotry that Native Americans face and the issues he faced as a student in the educational system, noting that he only had one teacher of color during the duration of his education including K-12 and college.
“For the most part I have really fond memories of my time at Princeton, but there were times of extreme discomfort too, where it was just such a different world than where I came from financially, culturally and so forth,” he said.
He said that one positive trend among the young generation is their questioning and exploration of native identities positively, but added that defining identities and citizenships for native people could be complicated, as most Native people are citizens both of their native nation and of the United States.
“Unlike the Amish or certain other cultural enclaves, we’re not just cultural enclaves, we also have distinct political entities,” he said.
He explained the criteria for being a citizen of a Native American nation are different than they are for most other nations where one is either born as a citizen or earn citizenship through an application process. Most native nations, he noted, require that a proven percentage of blood be from that native nation. The most common required percentage is 25 percent, but for some tribes it is higher, he said.
However, he said, the current blood quantum criteria for native nation citizenships are highly flawed since it evolved out of eugenics of the past and were designed to make native people “breed” themselves out of existence.
Treuer ended the lecture by emphasizing that in order for Native Americans to address the issues they currently face, they both need to work internally and collaborate with the rest of the world.
“There are plenty of problems in Indian country, lot of good things too, and of all of the things that are wrong, there isn’t one … that can’t be fixed by what’s right,” he said. “There are internal things that Native communities need to be working on, and then there are external sources of help and things that we need to do moving in coalition and concert with the rest of the world.”
Treuer, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the Wilson School, is currently a professor of Ojibwe language at Bemidji State University. He is also the editor of Oshkaabewis Native Journal, the only academic journal in the Ojibwe language.
The lecture, which took place at 4:30 p.m. in the Fields Center, was organized by the Natives at Princeton group.