To read Jim Northrup’s Rez Salute: The Real Healer Dealer (Fulcrum Publishing, 2012) is to be reminded of what gets lost in this era of e-mails, tweets and texts: letters, the witty musings in the voices of your family and friends that record life stories and funny moments. Those are reflections that you can read again and again. Northrup’s short ruminations feel like letters from home, and this book does a decade of catching up.
This latest collection of Northrup’s “Fond du Lac Follies” columns, named for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, picks up in 2002, where his previous book, Anishinaabe Syndicated: A View From the Rez (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011) left off. The playful, wry and bawdy humor remains, but here Northrup speaks more often as father, grandfather and role model. He still relates plenty of good jokes, like this one about bad generic toilet paper in a local store:
“It seems an Indian guy complained to the store manager about that no-name product. He even suggested a name for it. He said, call it John Wayne toilet paper. When asked why, he replied, ‘It is rough and tough and don’t take no crap off Indians.’ ”
Chapters, arranged chronologically, follow the recurring seasons of sugar bush (making maple syrup), basket weaving and wild rice harvesting, seen through Northrup’s prideful eyes as he watches his children and grandchildren learn traditional ways. Northrup, a self-described language warrior, weaves Ojibwe language into his prose; at one point, he recalls an elder who said, “With the language you are Anishinaabe, without it you are descendants of the Anishinaabe.” That prompts Northrup to ask, “So, Fonjalackers, which one are you?”
Not speaking Ojibwe won’t stop you from enjoying Jim’s listing of parts needed for a 1964 Corvette Stingray his wife won at a casino. Who knew that ingodwaasimidana ashi ingodwaaswi waabik meant “rear-wheel bearings”?
The stories emanate from the “World Headquarters of the Fond du Lac Follies”—Jim’s home in tiny Sawyer, Minnesota—but venture as far afield as Washington, D.C.
There is much to relish here, from Northrup’s observations of his youngest grandchildren’s antics to his veteran’s sadness and frustration over the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. “When people are laughing,” Northrup writes about an audience reacting to a play he wrote, “they are not thinking about the Iraq, Afghan, Pakistan war, not thinking about the expected layoffs at work, the rising cost of gasoline. They are just laughing. As I waited for the laughter to die down, I was thinking: Was it something I said? I sure hope so.”
Ultimately, these letters from a home you didn’t know you had bring humor and a welcome respite. Read an excerpt of Rez Salute.