Growing up, Rebecca Clarren only knew the major plot points of her tenacious immigrant family’s origins.
Her great-great-grandparents, the Sinykins, and their six children fled antisemitism in Russia and arrived in the United States at the turn of the 20th century, ultimately settling on a 160-acre homestead in South Dakota. Over the next few decades, despite tough years on a merciless prairie and multiple setbacks, the Sinykins became an American immigrant success story.
What none of Clarren’s ancestors ever mentioned was that their land, the foundation for much of their wealth, had been cruelly taken from the Lakota by the United States government. By the time the Sinykins moved to South Dakota, America had broken hundreds of treaties with hundreds of Indigenous nations across the continent, and the land that had once been reserved for the seven bands of the Lakota had been diminished, splintered, and handed for free, or practically free, to white settlers. In The Cost of Free Land, Clarren melds investigative reporting with personal family history to reveal the intertwined stories of her family and the Lakota, and the devastating cycle of loss of Indigenous land, culture, and resources that continues today.
Clarren grapples with the personal and national consequences of this legacy of violence and dispossession. What does it mean to survive oppression only to perpetuate and benefit from the oppression of others? By shining a light on the people and families tangled up in this country’s difficult history, The Cost of Free Land invites readers to consider their own culpability and what, now, can be done.
Rebecca Clarren has been writing about the rural West for more than twenty years. Her journalism, for which she has won the Hillman Prize, an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship, and 10 grants from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, has appeared in such publications as MotherJones, High Country News, The Nation, and Salon.com. Her debut novel, Kickdown (Sky Horse Press, 2018), was shortlisted for the PEN/Bellwether Prize.
Rena Priest is an enrolled member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. She served as the 6th Washington State Poet Laureate (2021-2023) and was named the 2022 Maxine Cushing Gray Distinguished Writing Fellow. Priest is also the recipient of an American Book Award, an Allied Arts Foundation Professional Poets Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and Indigenous Nations Poets. She is the author of three books and editor of two anthologies. Her work appears in print and online at Poetry Magazine, Poets.org, Yellow Medicine Review, High Country News, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle.