Young Adults Books

OJIBWAY FAMILY LIFE IN MINNESOTA: 20TH CENTURY SKETCHES, Priscilla Buffalohead et al, illustrated by Robert Desjarlait; Anoka-Hennepin Independent School District 11 Indian Education Program, 11299 Hanson Boulevard NW, Coon Rapids, MN 55433, 612-422-5500; 1991, 57 Pages, oversize paperback, black and white photos, maps, illustrations by Red Lake Ojibwe artist Robert DesJarlait, bibliography, resources for teachers. $10.95

The authors say this book is "a different kind of history book. It is not about important treaties, famous chiefs, or tribal governments. These are important topics, but excellent books about Ojibway political history are already available. Instead, this book focuses on the day-to-day lives of Ojibway families of the 20th century. National and tribal events are briefly covered to explain how these events affected family life. In the chapters which follow, you will meet some remarkable people. John Rogers tells how his family gathered snakeroot early in the century to trade to white people for sacks of white bread. Maude Kegg explains how she met her future husband at a logging camp. He got her attention by being a real pest....."

These are essays, photo-illustrated with many old photos, reproductions of Native family documents, and newsclips from the Minnesota Historical Society and wonderful black-and-white circular drawings by Robert Desjarlait.. Some of the essays are signed -- for example, artist DesJarlait's Nokomis Wakaigun (My Grandmother's House) and his memorial essay on his father, Patrick DesJarlait, probably Minnesota's best-known Indian artist.

In Chapter 1, Ojibwe history of the migration and spread of the Anisninaabeg peoples around the Great Lakes is sketched; the seasonal round of traditional family life -- the sugaring, the rice harvest, the family lodges, naming and learning customs of young people. There's a special chapter on Wah-we-yah-cumig (Round Earth), one of AIM leader Dennis Banks's ancestors, that explains how the Mille Lacs traditionals were forced off their Mille Lacs land in 1904, to go to what the U.S. intended to be a concentration camp for all upper midwest Indians, White Earth. He was a leader and orator in the attempt to resist this forced move, and communicated with others using a special Ojibwe-Cree syllabary alphabet, not as well known as Sequoyah's earlier Cherokee invention.

Chapter 2, Living in Two Worlds, covers 1900 - 1930. It deals with the agency trading posts, the employment of Indians as loggers (as their former lands were all being deforested by the timber industry), changes made by the automobile -- principally that Indian people working elsewhere could com to reservation powwows, and there was a mini-tourist boom of Minnesotans arriving to gape and buy small crafts. Chapter 3, Surviving the Hard times 1932-40, chronicles the effects of the Depression years -- employment in the CCC (Civillian Conservation Corps, which built roads, nature trails, etc.), berrying, selling crafts by the highway. This brought isolated Indian communities together for the first time. And there were some ironic aspects: Indian hunters were asked to provide game to feed the hungry poor in the Twin Cities, for example. Accustomed to being poor, jobless, and surviving with gardening, hunting and gathering, Minnesota's northern woodlands Ojibwe were able to provide help to those worse off than thmselves during hard times. It is amusing to think of white people and government officials turning to Indians for charity.

Chapter 5 describes a period of coming together, 1940-50, during which several Indian organizations -- particularly the National Congress of American Indians -- were formed, and in Minnesota, World War II brought knowledge of the outside world to the reservations, via soldiers, victory gardens, and a home defense brigade of women, who drilled with the rifles and shotguns left by brothers and husbands who went to war, in case any of the enemy showed up in the north woods. The women passed a single pressure cooker (a revelation, as I myself have heard) around among famiies and districts to do massive canning of victory garden produce more safely and quickly than with waterbath canners. A few elderly women still talk of that first pressure cooker with amazement and love as " the white man's best invention." (corn is never safe to can in waterbaths, some always spoils, pressure canning is good for all non-acidic vgetables)./p>

With all the young men away, some elders invented a wild rice threshing machine, paddles run off pulleys attached to car engines, to replace the strong young men, not available during wartime for the tiring task of "jigging" or dancing the rice to loosen its husks. Special mention must be given to Priscilla's sketch of Mary Rogers Perez, an elder who was a wartime welder and defense factory worker. Later she became an actress at the famous Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, playing the parts of Russian, Spanish and other ethnic women (Sir John Gielgud put on no plays about Indians during his directorship).

Hard times eased up after World War II for everyone but Indians. For Indians, it got much harder. The U.S. government adopted the post-war policy of termination and relocation -- ending national sovereignty of reservations, and moving the Indian populations off their remaining land to cities. Chapter 5, 1950-60, deals with that, with contrasting memories of childhoods on reservations, and desperate poverty and exploitation in the cities. A profile of Emily Peake sketches a woman who was much involved in urban Indian organizations and native self-help. In Chapter 6, 1960-90, the book discusses moving toward sovereignty and self-determination. The book ends with "A Piece Quilt", a memoir by Pauline Brunette, who uses quilts and crocheted afgans to tell a family history. (It is disappointing not to have a gallery of color pictures of them.)

This book is unique in its combination of guidance and information from elders who lived through the events described, careful documentary and especially photo source research, and its focus on the kind of history almost never told. It is well-complemented by another secondary school publication by Buffalohead: MODERN INDIAN ISSUES -- REPATRIATION, RELIGIOUS FREDOM, MASCOTS AND STEREOTYPES, TRIBAL SOVEREIGNTY, TRIBAL GOVERNMENT, TRIBAL ENTERPRISES, TREATY RIGHTS, also available from Oyate (510-848-6700) at $10.95. Together, these provide a substantial, accurate, interesting picture of 20th century Native life in the Northern U.S. woodlands, which is very appropriate for multicultural study by non-Indian youth, too. Though it centers on Minnesota's Ojibwe peoples, the clear, well-illustrated, and lively descriptions are good reading and good learning for non-Indian students anywhere. Very highly recommended. Reviewed by Paula Giese

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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Thursday, April 25, 1996 - 8:37:23 AM