Award-winning writer Jim Northrup, Ojibwe, has penned his column, the “Fond du Lac Follies,” since 1989. Before that he spent time in the U.S. Marines, including a stint in Viet Nam. Below is a sampling of his “views from the rez,” starting with a veteran’s reminiscence. For more on this Minnesota scribe, read a review of Anishinaabe Syndicated: A View from the Rez and check out Indian Country Today Media Network’s chat with the author.
From “Indian-looking Indians,” 1996
Another Veterans Day has come and gone. It has been over thirty years since I was in the Vietnam War and I remember it like it happened last week. I am proud to have served with some of the finest men I have ever met. The mud marines of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines were in a difficult place to do a difficult job. Six months after I left Vietnam, a platoon leader from my company won the Medal of Honor. Lieutenant John Bobo gave his life for his men and his country. We were young and strong and thought we were bullet-proof. Each dead marine that was loaded into a helicopter took part of that bullet-proof feeling away.
We used to tell ourselves that the bad things always happened to the other guy, but I used to wonder when it would be my turn to take that one-way chopper ride. At the time I was more worried about getting wounded than getting killed. Our attitude then was—if it moves, shoot it; if it doesn’t move, burn it. Actually I was more concerned with the mundane matters, like how far do we have to walk today? Will the choppers be able to make it in to deliver ammo, food, or water? When the choppers couldn’t come in because of weather or enemy fire, we would get hungry. We’d play little games, like do you remember what mashed potatoes tasted like? What about blueberry pie or ice cream? Can you picture the sound an apple makes when you bite into it?
We were eating nothing but C-rations, and I learned to like the taste of Ham and Lima Beans because most marines wouldn’t eat ham. I always had Ham and Motherf—ers to eat when we couldn’t get resupplied. I went to Vietnam weighing 180 pounds and when I returned I was 130 pounds of lean, mean fighting machine. My all-time overriding thought was about water. I used to try to imagine a tall cold glass of ice water, beading up on the outside of the glass, ice cubes floating in it. My favorite dream was about drinking a tall glass of ice water. Water was an obsession with me because sometimes all we had to drink was foul-tasting rice-paddy water.
So as another Veterans Day comes and goes, my thoughts are of those brave marines I served with. I know other people had worse experiences than I did in the war, but I will always remember the mud marines of India Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines. On Veterans Day morning, I stood up and saluted all veterans of all wars. After that, I sat down and had a tall glass of cold water.
From “Self-sanding Roads,” 1994
We motored to Mole Lake for some environmental doings. My son Jim and I went to a conference to see what was what. We brought a tent, air mattresses and some Sawyer water. The festivities were set up in a large grassy field next to the pallet-making plant at Mole Lake. At the registration booth I learned that we were a little late because some four hundred people had already signed up before we got there. We joined right in. We found a place to pitch our tent and listened to the talent show. There were people singing, reciting poems and playing music.
We began to have a feeling of community right away because we began running into old friends. I snuck up on Joe Campbell from Prairie Island. For the past several years we have been playing a game of sneaking up on each other. Sort of reliving the old Dakota-Ojibwe wars. This is a friendly game we play. The one who wins is the one who can say hello before the other person knows who is there. I won this time because I saw Joe coming across the field. I hid behind an elder and before Joe saw me, I stood up and said, “Hello.” Joe staggered back and said, “You got me.” He then reminded me of the time he was able to sneak up on me. It was at the Black Bear Casino and I was so intent on the nickel slots I didn’t see him until he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hello.” It was good to see him again, but it was better to see him before he saw me.
There were Native people from all over the place there in Mole Lake. I met some folks from Alaska, Washington State and New York. It was not surprising that we were all of the same mind about the proposed mine. No—we don’t want a mine. Stop right now. If you mine you’ll ruin the environment. We took part in a march to the proposed Crandon mine site. It was a good feeling to be a part of the hundreds of people who were walking together. I heard a five-mile-long AIM song. The drum and singers kept the people synchronized. When we arrived, I took a look at the proposed Exxon mine site. The birch trees there are some of the best I have seen in many years. The birch are dying all over northern Minnesota, but the ones there were in great shape. It would be a shame to cut down those beautiful trees so they can make a hole in the ground that will pollute the water.
While we were at the mine site, the law arrived. Captain Gibson, that’s G-I-B-S-O-N, said he was there to protect the mine site from the people who want to protect the earth. He told us we had to leave but was decent enough to wait until the ceremony was over. He asked me how long it would last. The only answer I could give to him was from the beginning to the end. I later heard someone put a bumper sticker on his squad car that said “No to Mining.”
Will Exxon win this one? They must need the money after paying billions for the massive oil spill in Alaska. The answer may be found on the state seal of Wisconsin. It shows a miner.
From ANISHINAABE SYNDICATED: A View from the Rez by Jim Northrup, copyright © 2011 by Jim Northrup. Reprinted by permission of Minnesota Historical Society Press.