Review: New Northrup book offers humor, history and a different perspectivePerhaps the only thing better than reading Jim Northrup’s work is hearing him in person. Beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26 at the Fond du Lac Community Center, 1720 Big Lake Road in Cloquet, Northrup will read from his new book, “Anishinaabe Syndicated: A View From the Rez.” The reading will be followed by a book signing.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
When Sawyer resident and award-winning author Jim Northrup began writing his “Fond du Lac Follies” column 22 years ago, he wasn’t thinking about his columns providing an historical record of the changes in society on and off the Fond du Lac Reservation. He was just having fun venting his thoughts about life on the Rez, Northrup said.
Case in point:
“Hell just froze over because Fonjalackers got a per capita gambling payment. After almost 15 years of high-stakes bingo and gambling casinos, we got a check for $1,500 each,” he wrote in 1995. “That comes out to a little over a hundred dollars a year. I’m glad we got the money. Now Mom can get that operation and I can send my kids to Harvard. I can also get the Ferrari I’ve always wanted.”
Now Northrup and the Minnesota Historical Society Press have published a “distillation” of the first 12 years of his column (from 1989 to 2001), aptly titled “Anishinaabe Syndicated: A View from the Rez.”
What a view it is. Whether he’s going to spear fish or hunt moose, traveling to powwows down the road or several states away, reading his poetry in New York City, practicing his Ojibwe or taking his grandson in the woods because it’s sugar bush time, Northrup always has something to say and a message to convey.
Many times the message is political – from treaty rights to gambling pros and cons – other times he focuses on ways he and others on the reservation manage to incorporate traditional Ojibwe activities into the fabric of their lives.
“While motoring on Interstate 35, I saw a rez car on the side of the road. … I knew it was a rez car right way because I have driven so many of them. The hood was up and one Shinnob was staring at the engine. The other Shinnob was gathering sage. … A couple miles past the first car there was another carload of Shinnobs also gathering sage. Of course, we know it is dangerous to stop alongside of the interstate. It is also illegal unless you have an emergency. Would being without sage constitute an emergency?”
Humor is a constant in a Northrup column. Sometimes it comes with a sting.
Excerpt from a column:
Question: Why is America called the land of the free?
Answer: Because they never paid the original inhabitants for it.
Reading Northrup’s columns feels almost conversational. That’s because Northrup first tells someone what he’s planning to write about. Next he writes, revises and writes again.
“[The rewrite] is where the magic happens, the boring stuff falls away and great lines pop into my head during that process,” Northrup said, explaining the process of writing a column.
Finally, he reads his column aloud again, before declaring it good enough to send to the three national American Indian newspapers that carry it each month. (The Nahgahchiwanong Dibahjimowinnan newspaper on the Fond du Lac Reservation, however, does not carry his column. The reservation-sponsored paper has a policy prohibiting opinion pieces, a policy Northrup questions more than once in his book.)
Entire paragraphs of Northrup’s columns are written in Ojibwe, with an English translation following for those who aren’t bilingual.
Add language ambassador to the resume, along with author, poet, playwright and, yes, unofficial historian.
That last title is as important as the first four. Whether or not he set out to compile a first-hand record of history, while Northrup was motoring around the country in a long line of “rez” cars, he witnessed and participated in many actions leading to significant changes for American Indians.
Northrup wrote about them all. He ranks the biggest changes (since he started writing his column) in this order:
1. Opposition to selling the 1854 and 1837 treaties (fierce to start with, now practically nonexistent);
2. The rise of gambling;
3. How quickly the housing happened – “I know, I worked construction for over 300 homes,” he said – and the
subsequent population rise on the Rez.
4. “Our rise in power” because of the clout of gambling dollars.
See those changes yourself by joining Northrup as he travels with the Follies through time to places near and far. Beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Fond du Lac Community Center, 1720 Big Lake Road in Cloquet, Northrup will read from and sign copies of his new book.
Think of it as a free sample of the book before you decide to purchase … as well as a chance to meet one of the best-known storytellers in the Northland.