Turtle Mountain, Congress, Thomas discussed on Fresh Air

Fresh Air


Our guest today is author. Louise Urge Rick in a career. Going back to the nineteen seventies. She's published seventeen novels and more than thirty books in all including children's literature poetry and nonfiction. She won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction twice earlier is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and much of her writing is centered on the experience of Native Americans. Her new novel set in Nineteen Fifty. Three and is inspired by her grandfather's role in resisting. A congressional effort to withdraw federal recognition from her family's tribe. The book is called the night watchman. Louise urged Rick. Welcome back to fresh air. It's been awhile Thank you you say. In the acknowledgements to this novel that you tried to write several books before getting underway on this one and that your impetus had disintegrated. You kind of weren't getting anywhere. Which is kind of a shock to me. Considering how prolific you have been Wh-what shook you loose and got US started on this book. I went back to reading my grandfather's letters which were written during the year. I was born. Nineteen fifty four so of course those years are somewhat mysterious to me and I knew that he had Thought Termination during that time but I never put together his letters and the details of what it was like for him to work as a nightwatchman. I never put that together with the timeline for the termination. Bill and what effect it had on the first five tribes slated to be terminated. A lot of this story is about this effort which your grandfather lead in which the main character in your book Thomas Leads. Which was this effort to oppose an initiative in the United States Congress to effectively kind of terminate the existence of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa which he was chairman of you. Want to explain what this proposal was. What its impact would have been termination was out way to finally resolve the what Congress Thought of as the Indian problem and that would be to move everyone off reservation land because it wouldn't be reservation land anymore. Turn over their Land Sutherland. Move everyone to cities and the most important part in doing that was to abrogate. All treaties in these treaties have been made since the beginning of our country on a nation to nation basis with every tribe and they all contain these words as long as the grass grows as long as the rivers flow so the original intent and purpose was to guarantee the land. That was that was agreed upon by the two parties. The two nations those were thrown out the window by both Houses of Congress and to simply Declared the existence of Indians or native American or American Indians a non non issue and to not recognize tribal nations all federal assistance to the Terminator Rec to terminate all federal assistance and all federal recognition of who native indigenous indigenous. People are and were the reason for termination was not just to get rid of the problem that they the the Indian problem but to To acquire the lands that in many cases were covered with some of the most beautiful stands of virgin forest in the country so the first tribe slated for termination the menominee and Klamath and the intent because of the because of the post war housing boom was to get those big stands of timber which they did and we should note that the resolution couch this as the emancipation of the tribes right. Yes so that was the thing that was so hard to grasp I mean people had Come out of government boarding school learning some English for instance my grandfather Who who wrote letters which I found later at the planes archives wrote to get into boarding school only finished the eighth grade and he was. He was tribal chairman at the time and he had to assemble a delegation and go up against Congress within a matter of months in order to try and save his triumphant from termination which meant all the land would be lost because that would be all they would have to sell. This was a remarkable part. The story is fictional. But this part of it is true absolutely issue and with an eighth grade education. Assemble this group and wrote letters and yeah couldn't be March About that's what started and I couldn't believe knowing what he went through as the nightwatchman trying to stay awake all night and by day writing letters. Going to meetings Traveling around the state of North Dakota wherever he could doing whatever he could to assemble a delegation I couldn't believe what his life was like. He said he he had twelve hours of sleep. Most weeks well for those of you. Who Don't know your story as well tell us just a bit about your background and your connection to the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa. I well so my mother is Turtle Mountain Chippewa as was my grandfather. And so am I. I am an enrolled member a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. It would be impossible for me to say that if termination had indeed won the day so my father is German. I'm a very mixed person and yet being a citizen of a nation within our nation gives one a certain sense of It it changes your life. It means that I I care deeply about my people. My Mother's people and I grew up knowing who I was and accepting all parts of myself and this is a part that I realized would not have existed. Had My grandfather not fought for it. Did you grow up speaking Is it is it a job where the language that the chippewas speak. It's Gibb Way Moen or initiative. Avi Moen or at the time that my grandfather was speaking at just plain Chippewa. I didn't grow up. He was the last fluent speaker in the family. And I am very proud to say. My daughter is the next fluent speaker because she is teaching at an gibb way immersion school. Water could adding in Wisconsin on the Likud. Ray Reservation on an art art or Chippewa and ojibway synonymous. Are they different terms for the same thing? Yes they're all versions of the original word initial Abi you Grew UP IN MINNESOTA is. That did not on a reservation right now. I grew up in Walkerton. North Dakota okay. I'm not that that's on on the border of The Sedan Dakota reservation. It used to be within the borders but I didn't grow up on the Turtle Mountain reservation. I was visiting grandchild right. And your did your parents both teach in bureau of Indian affairs schools to have did my mother and my father taught at the same school at my grandfather attended while boarding school in Washington. You know that brings us to a reading. I'd like you to to share with us This is a bit of history and I guess it talks about sort of what you can set this up. This is about when your grandfather ended up going away to school when you want to set this up and give us this reading from your book. Sure before my grandfather went to the Watan boarding school he went to a school that was somewhat closer fort. Totten it known as Spirit Lake now and in that time one thing for sure was that every classroom was decorated with flags. Flags were everywhere. This had been a former military fort turned into a boarding school for children so it was still run in his time as a military school and this is about when he leaves for school and this was a very common experience for children who left it was It was known that they would have to have their their heads shaved their hair cut. And that was one of the things that was most difficult for children in for their parents because their hair was personal and in many cases or many tribes many families allowing your hair grow long was a symbol of your long life. Cutting your hair is a symbol of grief. So for that to happen was always very disturbing for the family that year his father was gone. His cheekbones jutting out. Thomas was always hungry. They were down to desperation food then. A bit of bannock smeared with deer fat. The day schools on the reservation gave out just one meal. The government boarding school would feed three meals for taught in boarding school was days wagon ride. If you started well before dawn. Thomas's mother Julia or a one wept and hid her face as he went away she had been torn whether to cut his hair herself. They would cut his hair off at the school and to cut hair meant someone had died. It was a way of grieving just before they left. She took a knife to his braid. She would hang it in the woods. So the government would not be able to keep him so that he would come home and he had come home and that is our guest. Louise urge reading from her new novel. The night watchman you know. What's striking about. This is that people often send their kids away to school. For Opportunity the impetus future was really starvation. The impetus was starvation and the reasoning behind the best schools being far away was to assimilate native children to train them to live in a culture. That was very different from their parents. So that when they came home often children couldn't speak the language that their parents were speaking. I'd say right here. That boarding schools are often characterized in sort of a lump definition. But they're all very different and the government had secular boarding schools which underwent a real sea change in the nineteen thirties and became much more supportive of native culture while many of the boarding schools which were run by. Religious groups did not and remained hostile to native religion native culture. You know it's interesting when Thomas. The character in this book does as your grandfather did and write a lot of letters to local and state and national elected officials and eventually organizer Group To go to Washington to testify in Congress against this so-called Emancipation Bill. One of the chief backers of the bill was a senator from Utah. Arthur Watkins you want to just tell us a bit about him and his role. In all this Arthur v Watkins grew up on Indian land. His family had settled On a piece of property that had been tax forfeited so that was another way of dispossessing Indians. It was the allotment era when native people could get their citizenship if they accepted one hundred sixty acres for a man. Sorry women got only eighty acres So if you accepted your lot more often than you you got citizenship. But it was a way of saying well all of the members now have these parcels. Let's sell off the rest of the land or you know at the time. The extraordinary poverty that people lived with caused them to sell their land their ads in all the newspapers of the time advertising Indian land cheap. And that's what happened but that wasn't enough are there. Watkins would withhold monies. He did everything to coerce the the menominee and the shoot people to relinquish their lands a lot of the time. Native people did not really understand what they were being forced to sign are. This goes way back but this this was something that can really be documented They didn't understand that because they spoke their languages. They spoke their native languages. Many of them didn't understand what he was saying. What they were signing only understood that like with as with a treaty that they would receive monies if they signed but these monies were supposed to go to the tribes. Anyway it was that he held them up and so there was all sorts of ways to coerce people into allowing their lands to be terminated. So a lot of his prosperity and career were built upon essentially the dispossession of native Americans. Oh completely yeah yeah He in the He questions Thomas the character in the book and I'm sure he questioned your grandfather about this And one of the questions. He asked almost everybody. According to the story is just how much Indian blood is in you and this was something that the people from the Turtle Mountain Band found puzzling right. Because there is it's in some respects a hybrid of mini cultures. Rydin people identify as they identify. This is something that Really it really surprised me in reading back and doing the research when people he always questioned the the native person he was talking to and most often the native person could not really reply or gave some sort of long story trying to figure it out on the spot. And that's because everyone knew who was native who is Indian who wasn't and it wasn't something that native people took on as some sort of identity and now everybody knows down to the fraction how much how much quote unquote Indian blood. They have you know. There's a moment in the story here where this group from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa go to Washington to testify in Congress against this proposal to essentially terminate the tribe and they patiently and respectfully answer all the questions about you know..

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