Book Review
Buffalo Song
Sunday, February 08 2009
Written by Joseph Bruchac,
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2.jpgBased on actual events, this story tells of the successful efforts of Walking Cayote and other Natives to help stop the endangerment of the buffalo. In the 1870s less than fifteen hundred buffalo remained. The story follows a frightened buffalo calf who is lost from her mother and herd. Rescued by two members of the Nez Perce tribe she is taken to a small refuge for buffalo orphans started and run by Walking Cayote. They nurse the calf, and other buffalo orphans, back to health. The orphans ultimately wind up at the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana where they grow into a herd of seven hundred. Illustrated with vibrant illustrations and text that draws from research, Buffalo Song is a book about conservation and respect for animals.
The Recklessness of Love: Bawajiganan Gaye Ni Maanedam (Dreams and Regrets)
Sunday, February 08 2009
Written by Al Hunter,
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1.jpgPoet Al Hunter gives us a hundred voices with one spirit. In his poems he’s a lonely heart, a frozen Northerner, a dirty-talking dreamer, he’s Bob Dylan, and he’s a Rez Dog – but we knew that from those Dream Hotel poems – he’s an admitted screw up, reckless not cruel, he’s a tortured prisoner, a wayward lover, and he’s “been to war and back.” What we can’t say, or won’t say, Al Hunter gives us in generous clarity: we humans and our beautiful
world are frail and we must keep singing, praying, dreaming to be strong.
Louis Riel, A Comic Strip Biography
Sunday, February 08 2009
Written by Chester Brown Drawn and Quarterly Publications,
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louis_riel.jpgAlthough this Canadian graphic novel has been in print for several years, it is now more easily available through a US distributor and so I want to bring it to the attention of The ircle’s readers. I happen to love graphic novels. If you aren’t yet convinced they are a tremendous art form, this is the one o begin with!

This biography does the trick of sorting out the historical complexity of Riel’s actions and those of his compatriots. Chester Brown’s drawings are dramatic, lively, sometimes droll, sometimes heart wrenching. He does a good job of bringing out parts of the Louis Riel story that are murky and mysterious (his mental state, his fatal sense of fair play when fighting a ruthless enemy). This is a great read for any age, but especially for young people who don’t know how really
fascinating this piece of Native history is, and might not read Strange Empire, for instance, by Joseph Kinsey Howard. This book is a gift. It is a serious history that goes down easy. It is so complicated, yet so engaging that you will want to read it again and again. – Review by Louise Erdrich

Book sheds light on North Shore legend John Beargrease
Thursday, January 08 2009
Written by Daniel Lancaster,
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john.jpgMany people know the quick version of the John Beargrease story: The son of an Ojibwe chief who grew up on the rugged North Shore in the 1850s, he started delivering mail by boat, dogsled and foot – and didn’t let up for two decades.

Daniel Lancaster, an editor from Minneapolis who keeps a vacation home near Silver Bay, wanted to know more. He was thinking about writing a piece of historical fiction based on Beargrease’s life, and went looking for a definitive work on the namesake of the annual Northeastern Minnesota sleddog marathon. To his surprise, there was none, and thus began Lancaster’s obsession.

He began combing through turn-of-the-century newspaper clippings, correspondence from the Bois Forte Band of Lake Superior Chippewa archives, even the single remaining volume of records from a state mental institution that operated in Fergus Falls, Minn.

What emerged was his new book, “John Beargrease: Legend of Minnesota’s North Shore,” a portrait of Beargrease as one of the “usual heroes” who lived and worked along the edge of Lake Superior

He and his brothers delivered mail for nearly two decades, providing one of the only links to the outside world for the tiny but growing communities. In winter, Beargrease’s arrival in Beaver Bay, Lutsen or Lax Lake was heralded by the jingling bells strung
to his sled dogs’ harnesses. People would gather around to greet him, reach for their mail and ask for news from up and down the shore, and soon enough Beargrease would be off again to finish the two-day trip between Two Harbors and Grand Marais. “Everyone was a hero in those days,” Lancaster said. “He was one of many North Shore mail carriers that performed these amazing feats.”

So why did Beargrease became a legend, but fellow mail carrier Louis Plante, who also relayed mail up and down the shore, did not? Lancaster thinks it might be because Beargrease was a sociable man who left a strong impression. “He made a lot of friends, so people just remembered him,” Lancaster said. Lancaster said Beargrease also was “standing at the crossroads between modern America and the old world.”

“His story is so connected with the settlement and development of the North Shore, and the great loss the Ojibwe suffered,” Lancaster said. “His generation saw that transition. To me, Beargrease was unique in that he successfully lived in both worlds.”Exploring how the American Indian community fared during Beargrease’s time was intriguing to Jim Perlman, editor and publisher of Holy Cow! Press in Duluth.

Lancaster’s history “presents the almost uncomfortable relationships between the white settlers and the Indians who were here beforehand,” Perlman said. “That’s sanitized in other history books.”One great loss, Lancaster said, was the lack of oral history from

Beargrease’s descendants. That was the result of the government- imposed Indian boarding school era, where childrenwere forcibly divorced from their parents and their own culture, cutting off the oral traditions that would have kept alive more stories of Beargrease’s exploits.

After retiring in 1899, Beargrease made his home in Beaver Bay and Grand Portage. He died in 1910 after leaping into Lake Superior’s frigid water to save another mail carrier. Both men emerged from the lake, but Beargrease contracted pneumonia and died months later, at the approximate age of 48.

“The work he accepted he performed under harsh conditions,” Perlman said. “He required ingenuity and fortitude to carry out his missions.” Today, thousands of people gather each year to cheer teams competing in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon along the North Shore, and the first musher to leave the starting gate is always the ghost of John Beargrease. The fanfare might urprise the man who became a legend, Lancaster said.

“He was a private citizen,” Lancaster said. “He would certainly be astounded that he is remembered and celebrated to this day.”
National Monuments
Thursday, January 08 2009
Written by Heid Erdrich,
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heide.jpgMichigan State University Press November 2008, 96 pgs Heid Erdrich’s latest book of poetry “National Monuments” focuses her keen wit and piercing insights to reveal more important monuments than the ones along our interstate highways. Whether speaking of land, ancestral bones, or our own bodies, her poems take us through Native and universal subjects ranging in tones from funny to sad.

Some of the poems are in keeping with Erdrich’s ability to look at serious Native (and other) issues from an original and humorous point of view; such as the poem Guidelines for the Treatment of Sacred Objects: “Guidelines for the treatment of sacred
objects/ that appear or disappear at will/ or that appear larger in rear view mirrors,/ include calling in spiritual leaders such as librarians...”

Many of the poems in this collection begin with a quote from newspaper or other clippings, and cover topics like the Kennewick Man, bones being sold on Ebay, Rumsfeld’s ghost detainees, and cole slaw.

I look forward to reading Erdrich’s poetry because her work makes me laugh, gives me a new way to view things, or hands me lines that make me want to splat them down on canvas and swirl them into masterpieces of color and form. Like “Cat-eye marbles  ncrusting the sandbox like jewels.” And this most recent collection of poems doesn’t let me down. – Review by Catherine Whipple
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