the new trail of tears book coverReviewed by Vera Pereskokova

I must admit, beyond the basics, I know very little of American Indian history or their current situation. Prior to reading this book, I have never heard of the original trail of tears. I moved to the United States when I was 12 and even though I began my education here in the 7th grade, for some reason all history lessons I ever had were centered around Europe, or Middle East, or the beginning of times, etc.–never American history.

The overarching goal (at least in my opinion) of The New Trail of Tears by Naomi Schaefer Riley is not to just list off the statistics, – the poverty rates, and the suicide rates, and the violent crime rates on Indian reservations – but to shed some light on why those statistics are a reality. For example, Riley goes into detail on land ownership, using both American and Canadian tribes as examples. American Indians who live on reservations don’t actually own the land–it’s owned by the Federal Government. This arrangement makes buying and selling land difficult, if not impossible; same goes for using the land for business purposes.

Riley does focus the majority of the book on the problems with the educational system on Indian reservations. While issues with land ownership may be just a bill away from improvement, substandard education is creating generations of American Indians who are not given the opportunity to be productive members of society. Teaching positions on reservations are often handed out based on connections to tribe leaders, with little regard to qualifications. High school graduation rates at schools run by the Bureau of Indian Education are around an abysmal 50 percent. Worse yet, Riley talks about the common problem of parental role models; one school covered in the book holds a “lock-in” every month when government welfare checks are sent out to shield students from the violence that sometimes ensues following heavy alcohol / drug consumption.

The New Trail of Tears covers a lot of ground. It is not an account of every problem plaguing American Indians, but Riley does an excellent job of being laser focused on the topics at hand. What’s more, she goes beyond a casual observer or a simple re-teller of facts–she has an opinion on possible solutions for the problems discussed. So while it’s a brief account, The New Trail of Tears provided me with enough background on current issues facing American Indians and wet my appetite for additional reading material.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by FSB Media. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.