Goodbye, Columbus

In two new titles, Winona LaDuke and Jim Northrup weigh tribal rights and wrongs.

What makes this author an ideal navigator through these straits is his insider take--his parents and their parents before them were "Fonjalackers"--his generous knowledge, and his pragmatism about keeping the better part of tradition while staying current with the times. "Because we live in two worlds," Northrup writes in a description of the custom of hulling wild rice in a pit by dancing on it, "the music comes from a powwow tape or a rock-and-roll radio station." In another passage, he advises making moccasin tracks on the information superhighway by putting gambling revenues toward a computer in every rez home.

In 1991, a university researcher in Duluth surveyed a group of fourth- and fifth-graders in suburban Bloomington about their impressions of Native Americans. Among their answers were these: "They could be like us if they worked hard." "They all eat raw meat." "They are wig collectors." "They still live in teepees, are hungry, and probably have no clothes." "When the teacher told us they were still alive, it sure surprised me." Northrup's writings are not only something of a corrective to such misconceptions, but a chronicle of the actual absurdities of rez life; where these kids are learning ignorance, Northrup's experience is one of growing up ironic.

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