Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe

Anton Treuer
Bemidji, MN

Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe tells a new and compelling version of Minnesota’s creation story. It is also the definitive history of the Red Lake Nation, from the arrival of the first Ojibwe people at Red Lake to the present. Anton Treuer, professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, has provided a meticulously researched and beautifully written history focusing on telling the Native American story in the words of those that lived and live it.

Warrior Nation particular focuses on tribal leadership, especially in the treaty era. Treuer describes the clan structures and leadership traditions that reinforced and rewarded independence as the Ojibwe migrated westward from the Great Lakes—and the riches of the area that Ojibwe warriors wrested from Dakota residents. In seven chapters based on specific leaders, he demonstrates how the tribe fought to retain lands and all of Red Lake itself. By refusing multiple attempts by unrelenting white interests to allot lands to individual members, the tribe managed to avoid the land sales that have decimated other reservations across the country. Similarly, by resisting multiple attempts by Christian missionaries, the tribe has maintained Ojibwe language and spiritual practice to a far greater extent than other tribes in the state. And in 1918, in what Treuer calls “a move of political genius,” the tribe developed the first modern indigenous democratic governance system in the United States, decades before any other tribe, while simultaneously maintaining its system of hereditary chiefs.

In his research, Treuer went far beyond the usual sources. He uses the body of interviews with Ojibwe elders, conducted in Ojibwe, that he has built over the past twenty years, to provide indigenous perspective. He is also the first historian to use the papers of the legendary tribal chairman Peter Graves, including the only surviving copies of documents used in negotiations for the repatriation of lakeshore on Upper Red Lake, which Graves successfully negotiated before the Senate changed the agreement.

For Red Lakers and other indigenous citizens of Minnesota, this book provides a clear-eyed view of their smart, capable ancestors as they resisted the dispossession of the land. For white readers, experiencing the history from a Red Lake perspective makes a powerful difference. Accounts of unceasing timber fraud and the unrelenting pressures for land cessions and allotment become less inevitable and more painful. When readers feel outrage at the government’s failures to follow the law, they also gain a deeper understanding for why current relationships can be so strained. Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe makes a valuable contribution to both local and broader Native American history while demonstrating the relevance of history to today’s issues and concerns.