By Carrie Garcia
AIHFS Human Resource Specialist
Fairness is not given. It is made. These are true words well-spoken by author, speaker, trainer and Bemidji State University Ojibwe professor Anton Treuer. Treuer, Leech Lake Ojibwe, has authored over 20 books in his lifetime anywhere from the Anishinaabe language revitalization to Native American history. This blog is from a virtual interview we had with Anton to learn more about him.
AIHFS: What motivated you to want to write your books?
AT: I am up to 20 books. They are all different. I have a book called, The Language Warrior’s Manifesto How to Keep Our Languages Alive No Matter the Odds talks about the language revitalization and I have another one called, The Cultural Toolbox Traditional Ojibwe Living in the Modern World which is all about the native culture. Each book has its own origin story and were received differently by different people in different places. You have to imagine across Anishinaabe country that you have some places that everyone is a fluent speaker. We have some communities where our fluent speakers are gone. We have different experiences by generation, age, cultural experience language and strength in different communities but at the same time I think there are some really common threads that unite us as Anishinaabe people and not just because of similar experiences but similar cultural patterns and community strengths too.
AIHFS: With the various generations of readers, have you noticed more of a positive or more of a negative feedback from your books?
AT: Overwhelming positive feedback. This is a difficult time right now with politics and other topics. It made it hard for some people to put themselves out there speaking their truth. I try not to be too worried about politics. I try to say things how I see them and I think just being honest and authentic usually works. It doesn’t mean everyone is going to see the world like I do. I am just one person trying to navigate this crazy world at this crazy time we are living in. Just be kind and inclusive and open with others and communicate that with the things that we do. For the most part it has been well received. I don’t shy away from the tougher topics but I am not mean spirited and that seems to help.
AIHFS: What was one thing you hoped to accomplish with your writings?
AT: As native people we experience these contradictory pains of hypervisibility such as racial profiling and invisibility and marginalization. One of the things that I am trying to do with my work all together is elevate the visibility of native people and to tell our stories our way among the quest for healing for our people from all of the historical and contemporary traumas. I don’t think there is one simple silver bullet solution for all of those things, but the more that native people are empowered and supported in all of those efforts the more healing we all derive from that. I always try to hold up my fellow natives, authors, teachers, community members and tribal leaders. Everyone might see the battlefield differently, but we are all warriors in the same side of trying to make life better for the Anishinaabe people. I try to look at it that way and where I have been lucky blessed and put my time to share so that we can advance our language, culture, sovereignty, our community health.
AIHFS: What are some ways that us as Native Americans feel that we belong and not feel lost?
AT: 70 percent of the self-identified Native American’s live off the reservation. Even for those who are on the reservation for their whole lives, still feel disconnected. That’s because even if you have fluent speakers in your family, we are separated by so many things by generations. We put our elders in nursing homes, we send our first graders with other first graders. The things that would naturally happen for the intergenerational transmission of our language and culture are all being disrupted. One of the things I try to communicate with others is connection and culture are not something that live outside of us. I think a lot of people adopt that view and they are always looking out and looking for something. Those things live inside of us and we can be Anishinaabe wherever we live including in the center of a big city. We have to instead of looking for the external thing, wake up the internal thing and we can be okay in our own skin wherever we are at. That awakening is healing and empowering. One of the things I found is that we have some tools at our disposal that our ancestors did not have that can make that a little easier. The thing I appreciate about writing books is that anyone can pick up a book or turn on Audible. It’s not the same as being with someone in a Wigwam in a ceremony, but it’s something that can help bridge that connection and get information and connect us to one another.
AIHFS: Out of all the books you have written, which one is your favorite book and why?
AT: It depends on the purpose. My most recent book, The Cultural Toolbox, was my most personal writing today. It was a very healing process for me writing the book. The book shares a little deeper on how we try to do our culture in this time. For those who are on their cultural journey will find a lot of residence and help with that. The Language Warrior’s Manifesto has been getting great reception in the language communities. It’s not just the Ojibwe things. We have been working with the Menominee, Blackfeet, Dakota and other different groups that are trying to work with the language revitalization. There are different ones for different purposes. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask has been the bestselling one. We released a young readers edition in April 2021 and that one took right off. It speaks to the young readers. I have enjoyed the opportunity to keep broadening the reception of that particular work. I can’t just pick one. They all serve different purposes. I feel blessed to speak on a variety of topics.
AIHFS: Which of your books would you like to see made into a movie and why?
AT: We are in the process of trying to develop a movie right now. It is The Assassination of Hole In The Day. It’s one of the history books I wrote and it was about an Ojibwe leader in the middle of the 1800’s who was killed. His story is a murder mystery and is a window into how the nature of the Ojibwe leadership changed. It has everything that a good story should have. We are slowly climbing Mt. Everest towards our goal on a movie.
AIHFS: Did you have any struggles or roadblocks writing your publications?
AT: Every author has this. Before I was getting started I had a lot of rejection letters. It just set me back to be more determined, to sharpen my saw and to work stronger than before and give it another shot. I have more people coming after me now than I can possibly satisfy with the work. It takes a while to get noticed and build up your own ability. Sometimes there are people with wonder talents, ideas and writings who don’t get noticed and don’t get pick up. You have to be persistent. It was really tough at first for academic writing as people discounted things like oral history and use of indigenous languages. I had plenty of roadblocks and setbacks.
AIHFS: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
AT: As human beings we have moments of self-doubt. I would have said, believe in yourself. You are worthy of all the things of the love and respect of your family, your people, and your community. You can do it. Don’t listen to anyone that’s telling you no or your less than.
AIHFS: American Indian Health and Family Services deals with health care in the community and even for their employees. Do you have an exercise or physical activity that you regularly do? Why did you choose it and how long have you been actively doing it?
AT: I believe in all forms of health. Mental, spiritual, emotional and physical. I like to run a lot. I usually run four times a week. I do some weight lifting and try to balance it out. I am trying to do a little bit more weight lifting and maintaining the cardio. It shifted and changed over time. Its fun to mix things up and keep it interesting. I live in a rural area and being outside feeds me in other ways. That’s why I like running.
AIHFS: For those who are wanting to pursue things such as following their talents, what words of wisdom would you give them?
AT: We as being Anishinaabe we can do anything that we want to do. We are perfectly capable. Don’t let anyone hold you down and keep you down. Remember to be kind and put your best self out in the world and don’t be too hard on yourself. Be supportive of other people, their success is our success and we should want everyone to have their best shot at a healthy and happy life. We are not in competition with everyone else in the world.
You can order Anton’s books on his website at https://antontreuer.com/, Amazon, and also on e-books on Audible.