For Jim Northrup, Ojibwe, it was an exciting couple of days. On May 17, the award-winning poet/author/playwright/journalist received an honorary doctorate of letters from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, Minnesota—the first one the institution had ever awarded. The same evening, his 2011 book, Anishinaabe Syndicated: A View from the Rez, was up for a Northeastern Minnesota Book Award.
And the following day, he was honored with the 2012 George Morrison Artist Award from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council at a presentation in Aitkin, Minnesota. All of this was a fitting tribute for a U.S. Marine veteran, leading up to Memorial Day.
“Are you sure you have the right Jim Northrup?” he asked upon learning about his various honors.
Of that there was no doubt. The honorary degree required approval by the chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, and Northrup passed scrutiny with flying colors. “It was an easy choice for the first time that we’re going to do this,” Fond du Lac College President Larry Anderson said. “He has such a great story to tell. He’s definitely earned this honorary award. It’s really based on his body of intellectual work.”
The writer has already worked out a line to go with his newest title of doctor: “Well, young lady, I’m not a medical doctor, and I don’t play one on TV, but I’d be willing to take a peek.”
His new honorific notwithstanding, he’ll still have to do the dishes, he quipped to Indian Country Today Media Network. (Though in response to a comment from his wife, Pat, he admitted he doesn’t really do them even now.)
Northrup acknowledges the irony that his doctorate entails. A U.S. Marine and former law-enforcement officer, he has an educational background that includes boarding school, reform school, a high school diploma and university credits just shy of a bachelor’s degree. Jumping straight to a doctorate, he said, is the way to go—after all, no term papers to write.
Northrup has done his share of writing, of course, classroom assignments notwithstanding. He describes his technique thusly: “I look at that screen, and I put a word down, and I say to it, ‘You wait right here, and I’ll go get another one.’” He is the author of three books, with another, Rez Salute: The Real Healer Dealer, coming out this fall from Fulcrum Publishing.
The volume is a selection from the past 10 years of his monthly column, “Fond du Lac Follies,” which appears in several newspapers including The Circle and News From Indian Country. It mixes humor, political commentary and cultural observation about life on the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation, his home.
“In Rez Salute I am saluting all of the Anishinaabe who came before me,” he told ICTMN in an e-mail. “It is a historical piece of work, recording the changes that happen on this reservation.”
The new book is much like his previous entries, Walking the Rez Road (Voyageur Press, 1993), winner of the Minnesota Book Award and a Northeast Minnesota Book Award; The Rez Road Follies: Canoes, Casinos, Computers and Birch Bark Baskets (Kodansha America Inc., 1997); and the aforementioned Anishinaabe Syndicated (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011; read a review and an excerpt). In all cases, Northrup said, he has found himself “looking at the world with my sometimes jaded eye and trying to make sense of it all. When I can’t do that, then I just make fun of it.”
One example: “At the beginning of the book, I talk about how I was taught to salute the Marine Corps way and was taught to salute the American flag. But then flags started popping up all over, and I was getting tired of saluting, because I brought some bananas home from the store and each banana had a tiny American flag sticker. I said I was going bananas saluting bananas.”
“I like to play with words, English or Ojibwe,” he continued, pointing out that the book’s title has its own secondary meaning when the words are combined—if you say them quickly, it sounds like “resolute.” Northrup took the subtitle, The Real Healer Dealer, from what prolific author Gerald Vizenor, White Earth Ojibwe, has dubbed him. ICTMN interviewed Northrup last year.
When not writing his column or books, Northrup has been a mentor for the Loft Inroads program out of Minneapolis, a judge for the Lake Superior Contemporary Writers Series and a member of the Minnesota State Arts Board Prose Panel. One of his plays, Rez Road 2000, was performed at the History Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Northrup’s newest awards will join others in the special place reserved for his accolades—the bathroom. That location, he insists, implies no disrespect; it’s merely a way of keeping himself humble. Acknowledging that the bathroom walls already are nearly full of posters, fliers and previous honors, Northrup said, “We’re going to have to start using the ceiling.”