"Rez Life" by David Treuer. Q&A with him on canoeing through marshlands to Indian reservations.
"Rez Life" by David Treuer. Q&A with him on canoeing through marshlands to Indian reservations. ( grove press )

In his nonfiction book "Rez Life," David Treuer offers an affecting portrait of his childhood home, Leech Lake Indian Reservation, and his people, the Ojibwe. Before writing the book, he visited small reservations across the vast marshlands of Minnesota, North Dakota, Ontario and Manitoba, many of which are inaccessible by road. So he traveled by canoe or by foot -- just as the Ojibwe had once done in search of game, berries and wild rice. Here is an edited chat with him:

What's the best time of year to explore Leech Lake?

In northern Minnesota, the land is almost impassable in the summer (because) so much of it is swamp or lakes or rivers. When ice comes -- this is what people say back home -- everybody turns into Jesus because everyone can walk on water. Winter is finally when you can go anywhere. You can go by snowmobile or explore by going snowshoeing or skiing.

What about exploring other reservations?

In the winter, you can go by ice road -- if you've seen the show "Ice Road Truckers," you know what I'm talking about -- but better still is by canoe come June or July. Along the Berens River, whose headwaters start at Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, are quite a few First Nations, as they're called in Canada. Very small communities like Poplar Hill, Pikangikum, Little Grand Rapids. We pulled ashore there once. They don't get many visitors, so they were very glad to see us.

Any suggestions for canoe areas?

If you have no experience, you should start in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. The lakes aren't too big, and the rivers aren't too wild, and it's well preserved. If you want to take it up a notch, the Bloodvein River in Ontario is a good 2.0 trip.


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Any rivers for the truly adventurous?

The Thlewiaza River from Nueltin Lake in Nunavut to Hudson Bay. You have to take a float plane there; it's hundreds of miles north of Minnesota. There are no trees. The wind is constant. It sleeted and snowed when we were there in July.

-- Emily Brennan, New York Times