Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Thanks to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community's generosity, 10,000 copies of a book that Kirkus Reviews called "wise, well-researched and not to be missed" will be donated to Minnesota middle schools and high schools.

While shipments won't start until late summer, educators must act soon to take advantage of this donation. Sign-ups for the books are expected to start this month, according to author Anton Treuer, an acclaimed American Indian scholar and professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University. Copies are expected to go fast and will be given away to schools on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The title of Treuer's book is "Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask." It was first published in 2012, but has been revised and expanded since then. In 2021, Treuer also released a version for young readers. That's the version to be given away to schools statewide.

As the title suggests, the book aims to educate readers on Native history and culture. What sets it apart is its friendly, conversational tone, which Treuer doesn't veer from in tackling topics that range from fry bread to pipelines to boarding school abuses.

Among the questions addressed: "What's it like for Natives who don't look Native?" And, "Why is there such a fuss about Non-Native people wearing Indian costumes for Halloween?

The young reader version includes the different questions that this age group might have, such as "What's it like for Native people dating non-Native people?" And, "What do Native people think about Native mascots?"

Along the way, there's accessible information about history, cultural practices and governance. This is particularly valuable information for Minnesota kids. There are seven Anishinaabe reservations and four Dakota communities with the state's borders, according to the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council.

Students growing up in Minnesota are likely to know someone who is a Native American and to travel to or across a reservation. The state's future leaders and workforce may also do business with the state's Indian communities or weigh in on policies affecting them. Those who do so should have this fundamental knowledge: "All seven Anishinaabe reservations in Minnesota were originally established by treaty and are considered separate and distinct nations by the United States government," as the council states.

In addition, history continues to shape current-day events in Minnesota. The new state flag is an example of that. Part of the push for it came from the former flag's controversial depiction of an Indian riding off into the distance while a settler puts a plow in the ground. Treuer's book adds important context to this change, helping inform a still-simmering debate.

"What could be more important than reaching kids?" Treuer said in an interview this week. "I think everybody is hungry for good information. Our young people are especially interested in doing better ... and getting along. We need to prepare them for a world that we can only imagine but that one that we can imagine will be a very diverse place."

Treuer has also developed teacher guides for educators who plan to use this essential book. Those guides are available at antontreuer.com/resources.

The books will distributed in classroom sets of 32 book copies, according to Treuer, with a limit of three sets per order. He also noted that the books will be shipped in the late summer in time for use in November during Native American Heritage Month. Educators who want to sign up for the program should go to understandnativemn.org and click on "Subscribe for Updates." Those who do will be notified when the sign-up for the book is underway and what steps are necessary.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton community has become a regional philanthropic force. The book giveaway is part of its recent Understand Native Minnesota campaign to "improve younger generations' understanding of the state's tribes and Native peoples." The $5 million program was launched in 2019 and "has funded grants, research, curriculum and workshops for teachers across the state," according to a 2024 Star Tribune story.

While the campaign is wrapping up, the book giveaway is a commendable closing note. The Star Tribune Editorial Board encourages educators to take full advantage of it.