Two Portraits: A Moment and a People

Texture, complexity, depth, a broad palette—the words that best describe Anton Treuer’s The Assassination of Hole in the Day (Borealis Books, 2010) could be applied to a well-executed painting. Treuer (Ojibwe, Leech Lake Band), a professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, has masterfully recounted the 1868 assassination of tribal leader Bagone-giizhig the Younger (Hole in the Day), who was confronted and shot by a dozen Ojibwe men en route to Washington to fight removal of the Mississippi Ojibwe to the White Earth Reservation. The work earned Treuer a 2011 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award Honorable Mention for nonfiction. His other 2010 work, Ojibwe in Minnesota, is part of a Minnesota Historical Society Press series. Though very different, each benefits from Treuer’s gathering of Ojibwe oral and written history.

The concise Ojibwe in Minnesota starts with the people’s migration into the state. Treuer reviews the effects of poverty, drug abuse and gaming and discusses the benefits of preserving language and culture. In Hole in the Day he dissects the events around the pivotal assassination. Many histories focus on Indian interactions with or reactions to non-Indians, but this one starts at the center of the diverse, far-flung Ojibwe Nation and follows the rise to power of both the younger and elder Hole in the Day. In its nuanced depiction of traditional governance, changing Ojibwe economies and relations, the role of Ojibwe-Dakota conflicts and the influence of American interests, the book sets a new standard. Here’s our chat with Treuer, and more coverage.

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