O. O. M., Supreme Court, Louisiana discussed on Fresh Air

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O. O. M. A. dot com the Supreme Court a major challenge to abortion rights advocates say the arguments offered by abortion opponents are a wolf in sheep's clothing well the state of Louisiana says the wolf is the doctors these are not safe places we'll look at the case and the results from super Tuesday this afternoon and all things considered from NPR news weekdays starting at four on W. NYC this is fresh AIR I'm Dave Davies in for Terry gross our guest today is author Louise drank 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 non fiction she won the National Book Award and the national book critics circle award for fiction twice verdict 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 is set in nineteen fifty three and is inspired by her grandfather's role in resisting a congressional effort to withdraw federal recognition for her family's tribe the book is called the night watchman the Louise Erdrich welcome back to fresh AIR it's been a while thank you you know you say in the acknowledgments to this novel that you try 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 what should you loose and get you started on this book I went back to reading my grandfather's letters which were written during the year I was born in nineteen fifty four so of course those years are somewhat mysterious to me and I knew that he had fought 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 night watchman I never put that together with the time line 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 she was chairman of you want to just explain what this proposal was what its impact would have been termination was way to finally resolve the what Congress thought of this 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 seller land moved everyone to cities and the most important part in doing that was to abrogate all treaties in these trees 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 declare the existence of Indians or native American or American Indians a non non issue and to not recognize tribal nations and to terminate all federal system to to the to terminate trilateral wrecked to terminate all federal assistance and all federal recognition of who a native American indigenous indigenous people are and more 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 with the Menominee and the Klamath and the intent because of the hope because of the post war housing boom wants to get those big stands of timber which they did and we should note that the resolution couch this as the emancipation of the tracks 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 plains archives wrote letters to get into boarding school only finished the eighth grade and he was he was tribal chairman of 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 tribe and from termination which meant all the land would be lost because that would be all they would have to sell right this is a remarkable part of the story is fictional but this part of it is true okay it's absolutely true and what a nice way to cation assembled this group and wrote letters and yeah it couldn't be more true that's what started it I couldn't believe it knowing what he went through it has the night watchman trying to stay awake all night and by day writing letters going to meetings five traveling around the state of North Dakota where ever he could doing whatever he could to assemble a delegation I I couldn't believe what his life was like he said he he had twelve hours of sleep most weeks well you know for those of you who don't know your story as well tell us just a bit about your own background and your connection to this the turtle mountain band of Chippewa I will so my mother is turtle mountain Chippewa as was my grandfather and so my 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 next person and yet being a citizen of a nation with in our nation give this 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 jeep with a language that that supports me it's a cheap way Melin ordination optimal when or at the time that my grandfather was speaking at just plain ship what 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 on chip way immersion school water could hiding in Wisconsin under liquid ray reservation at art art or Chippewa and Ojibwe synonymous with the different terms for the center yes they're all versions of the original word initially not pay you some grew up in Minnesota is that right did not on a reservation right no I grew up in Wahpeton North Dakota okay I'm sorry that's not that's that's on the on the border of the Sisseton Dakota reservation it used to be within the borders but I didn't grow up on the turtle mountain reservation I was visiting grand child right and you're but did your parents both teach and bureau of Indian affairs schools have yet my mother and my father taught at the same school that my grandfather attended while putting school on Martin you know that 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 well maybe you can set this up is about when your grandfather ended up going away to school if you want to just set this up and give us this reading from her book sure the former grandfather went to the Wahpeton boarding school he went to school that was somewhat closer fort Totten it's not a 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 is a very common experience for children who laughed it was Sarah it was known that they would have to there had their heads shaved their hair cut and that was one of the things that was most difficult for children and for their parents because there was personal and in many cases are many tribes many families allowing your hair to grow long was a symbol of your long life cutting your hair it is a symbol of grief so for that to happen was always very disturbing mmhm for the family that year his father was gaunt his cheek bones jutting out Thomas was always hungry they were down to desperation food then a bit of a panic smeared with dear fat the day schools on the reservation gave out just one meal the government boarding school would feed three meals for Titan boarding school was a day's wegen right if you started well before dawn Thomas's mother Julia or one wept and hit 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 Erdrich 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 Fisher 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 have to say right here that boarding schools are often characterized in sort of a lump definition but they were 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 in native culture Louise Erdrich is our guest her new novel is the night watchman we'll continue our conversation in just a moment this is fresh AIR.

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