Gerald Vizenor: On his forthcoming novel & the White Earth Constitution


Publication Date: May 10, 2016

October 1934—A Familiar Treatise on the White Earth Nation

The Politics Behind Treaty Shirts: October 2034—A Familiar Treatise on the White Earth Nation
At this moment, members of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and Minnesota Chippewa Tribe1 are engaged in an urgent debate. The ratification of the new constitution by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, in November 2013, renewed this blood quantum debate. “The new document removes a requirement that tribal citizens possess one-quarter Minnesota Chippewa Tribe blood, a controversial ‘blood quantum’ standard adopted at the urging of the federal government decades ago.”2

Author Statement, from Gerald Vizenor:

Treaty Shirts is allegorical; not a parable but an ironic analogy. the subtitle, “A Familiar Treatise,” suggests that the seven narratives are allegorical, each declaring a distinct view of native politics and governance.

The Constitution of the White Earth Nation provides an ethos of egalitarian governance, and most citizens voted in favor of this honorable constitution. The principles of the constitution are not diminished by the favors of politicians. But clearly the politics of governance is indeed another matter.

I was never certain that the Constitution would easily become the actual practice of governance, and therefore created seven native narratives, seven allegories in Treaty Shirts, of the futurity of the Constitution.

Treaty Shirts is an ironic declaration, in seven distinct native voices that the ethos of the Constitution of the White Earth Nation is not determined by territorial boundaries, and is never creased by separatism, reservations, or the obscure politics of the federal government.

Without a new constitution the reservation will not survive the economic and political forces of the future. The population will slowly decline, down to a nasty gang of terminal believers and identity politics will turn more fascist. This condition represents the actual strategies of the federal government: the vanishing Indian.

The seven natives in Treaty Shirts are banished because of their dedication to a democratic ethos and declare a new nation based on the Constitution of the White Earth Nation. The Constitution was ratified by legal delegates and endorsed by almost eighty percent of the eligible voters, and the total number of voters was more than any election held in the history of the reservation community. This historical document, the actual Constitution of the White Earth Nation, outlasts the fascist politics and federal policies. The Constitution is a true historical document, not a promissory note, and neither reservation nor federal politics determine the authenticity of the Constitution.

Treaty Shirts is seven narratives about this very critical discussion, that is the subject of the novel, an allegory and familiar treatise of the native ethos of egalitarian governance.


Gerald Vizenor, France, 2016. Photo by Laura Hall.

1 The White Earth Band of Ojibwe is one of six nations that comprise the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.

2“White Earth members approve constitution,” Star Tribune; Minneapolis, MN (11/21/13)