Welcome to another episode of the Willoughby Hills podcast!
My guest today is Rebecca Clarren, a journalist who has spent the last 20 years documenting stories of Indigenous Americans.
Rebecca’s reporting collides with her personal history in her new book The Cost of Free Land: Jews, Lakota, and an American Inheritance. The story begins with Rebecca’s Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors living in Russia, facing antisemitism and extreme violence.
Her family immigrates to the United States, where they are offered a free homestead in South Dakota if they are willing to improve the land for farming or ranching. Unbeknownst to Rebecca’s relatives, that land had been promised to Lakota people through treaties with the United States government. Over time, the U.S. modified its treaties, shrinking Lakota territory and gifting that same land to white homesteaders.
Rebecca’s book is beautifully written and meticulously researched. She interviews many of her own family members and digs into family records to uncover her side of the story. She also speaks with many Lakota elders, including descendants of Joseph White Bull, a Lakota leader who was photographed with one of Rebecca’s relatives in 1919.
Even though the book is entirely about American history as it relates to both Jews and Lakota, I couldn’t help but read this book and see parallels with the current situation in Israel and Palestine. The book helped me gain perspective on the tragedies of war and genocide and helped me understand how power dynamics related to race and culture can often impact relationships.
Rebecca’s book is a vital read for better understanding U.S. history, but it also provided me some comfort and perspective when considering our current challenges. I highly recommend it!
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