Fond du Lac Follies: "Oh, he must be a casino Indian!!"

By Jim Northrup
News From Indian Country 9-08

Jim Northrup (right)
Photo by Tysa Goodrich

Fond du Lac Follies motored to the Red Cliff Reservation at the invitation of Andy Gokee, the annual Ojibwe language immersion camp was being held there. He wanted me to teach what I know about making birch bark baskets.

I motored there in that beautiful, shiny, ‘64 Corvette Sting Ray. The sun was out and the sky was blue as I drove east on Highway 13 in Wisconsin. The two lane road hugged the south shore of Lake Superior. When driving that car I always feel eyes on me. First, people look at the flowing lines of that 44 year old sports car. Then they see me driving and there seems to be confusion, like what is an Indian doing in that car? Then I can almost hear them say, Oh, must be a casino Indian.

I arrived at the camp on Raspberry Point and immediately began meeting people I knew. Marv Defoe took time out from birch bark canoe building at the Fond du Lac to come to the immersion camp, makes sense since he is from Red Cliff. In the morning I watched Leonard Moose work with about 12 children in learning the Ojibwe language. In the afternoon we took some students out to gather bark. At first Marv was apprehensive about showing me where the good birch was located on his Rez. He thought I might come back and gather some bark for the baskets I make. In the end he decided to show me where some good trees were to be found. Marv took half of our group and I took the other half to show them what I know about removing birch from the trees. We collected enough bark for those who wanted to learn how to work with the materials.

I brought willow frames and basswood bark for the stitching. It was a large group of people who wanted to learn, more than 30 initially. I got everyone started then began answering questions about how to do it. After I taught one person how to do something I would ask them to teach someone else what they had learned. People were at different stages of basket construction so I stayed busy all afternoon.

The next day the class size was smaller and some got real close to finishing their baskets. At the beginning I told them I couldn’t guarantee they would make a basket but would guarantee they would learn how to work with the materials. I felt like I had accomplished what I set out to do and Andy Gokee was satisfied with the teaching and learning.

I think with immersion camps, language tables, college courses, schools and ceremonies the Ojibwe language will continue to be spoken.

We will keep our language alive.


Photo by Tysa Goodrich
The something annual Veteran’s pow wow was held in Sawyer again at Mashkawisen. Right off the top I think Mary Northrup, our Veterans Service Officer, and the pow wow committee did an outstanding job in organizing this tribute to veterans.

My wife had her food stand called Stand Here. She passed the Rez health inspection and began churning out fry bread and tacos. Patricia also had wild rice soup for sale. Her crew consisted of my son Matthew, his woman Jackie, her sister Cynthia and son Calvin. Aaron Ezigaa was helping by being a gopher.

Tysa Goodrich, a woman from California, came to see her first pow wow. My wife put her to work right away cutting up onions. There was always a line in front of Stand Here, just people buying food.

Next to that stand I set up my shelter that is a combination birch bark basket sales outlet and a veteran’s lounge. We had a florescent green sign that that advertised Free Coffee For Veterans. One veteran was Adam, a young Marine who had been blown up in Iraq. Ray Earley, USMC Vietnam vet, told us stories about the battle of Hue City.

Veterans would stop by, drink coffee, listen and tell stories. Tysa was done with her work so she sat in the lounge and listened to the stories. She is writing a novel about a Vietnam vet.

The Rez provided gifts for their veterans. We got a leather travel bag embossed with the words Fond du Lac Ogichidaa. Inside the bag was a T-shirt, a hat, a nifty knife, a thermos, and wild rice. Veterans not from Fond du Lac were also recognized and were given gifts.

The singing and dancing went on all weekend except for Friday night when there was a threat of a severe thunderstorm.

As a veteran I felt recognized and honored at this event. Part of me still had a nagging thought. Why don’t we quit making veterans?


Mii iw, mii sa iw.