Thursday, September 26, 2013

Multiple Sovereignties in David Treuer’s book, Rez Life

By Raju Desai
David Treuer’s book, Rez Life, is a portrait of multiple American Indian lives, communities, histories, and struggles woven through multiple stories of people that he has come across. Through anecdotes, he weaves the long, convoluted history of treaties, policies, and legislation between Indian nations and the United States and how they have affected Indian lives today. What stands out the most to me in his work are the multiple forms of sovereignty and how they function with each other. 

As a non-native, my conceptions of sovereignty are usually around the ability to make/enforce laws and control resources. However, in his book, Treuer shows that there are multiple overlapping forms of sovereignty such as: treaty-making, education, familial sovereignty, spiritual sovereignty that, in addition to legislative sovereignty and control of resources, actually make up the inherent tribal rights of American Indian groups. His book shows that these rights have historically been violated and transformed with serious affects on tribal life. Treuer shows that, through all this, tribal identities remain, but it is a constant battle that is based on changing forms of sovereignty.

Rez Life depicts Indian life on the reservation as a constant negotiation of these multiple sovereignties in order to maintain a strong Indian identity. He humanizes the harsh realities of life on the reservation, by showing that through it all, despite the issues within these communities, these communities are home. While he tells stories of immense poverty, crime, and social toxins, Treuer also tells stories of resilience, dignity, and hope. It’s like how Shaye Tibbetts, one of the women in the book, says: “Don’t pity me. We got it good. We got it good. We got it better than most people. Don’t feel bad for me. Feel bad for somebody else because, well, I don’t need pity” (Treuer 175). His argument is that Indians don’t need pity, but rather, they need to the freedom to exercise their multiple sovereignties so that they can reclaim/practice their inherent tribal rights and create more stories of hope and resilience within the reservations.

This diagram illustrating the multiple sovereignties, or forms of sovereignty, explored in Treuer’s Rez Life, was created by Raju Desai and Keali'i Mackenzie.

No comments:

Post a Comment