The Real Healer Dealer
By Jim Northrup
Fulcrum Publishing Copyright © 2012 Jim Northrup
All rights reserved.
This Way Niswi — 2002
Flags, flags, and more American flags. I see the red-white-and-blue of the flags almost everywhere I go. The Fond du Lac Reservation gave black nylon jackets to all of the veterans from the Rez. On the left sleeve is an American flag. I have been proudly wearing that jacket for four years or more. The flag symbolizes my time in Vietnam. I remember the flag-draped caskets coming home from that war. As a young Marine, I was taught to salute the American flag to show respect. I remember how to do a proper hand salute. The right arm is held at a forty-five-degree angle, fingers extended and joined, touching the right eyebrow or hat brim. The salute is held then cut away smartly. I salute American flags. Lately, it has been getting out of hand. I was used to rendering a hand salute when I drove by a Perkins restaurant or some used-car lots, but now my arm is getting sore with all this saluting. Salute, salute, salute. I once counted fifty-six salutes as I drove through the downtown area of a small town in Minnesota. The flags were on every light pole. I don't drive that way anymore. I got some bananas at the store, and each one had a tiny American flag sticker on the side of the peel. The terrorists who attacked America are going to be very afraid now that we have flags on our bananas. As for me, I am going bananas saluting bananas. There are flags on fence posts in the middle of nowhere. I see American flag billboards and decals and small ones waving from vehicles on the highways of America. I have seen Christmas lights turned into our national symbol. I am going into a flag overload. On the Rez, the treatment center in Sawyer has a novel way of displaying the red-white-and-blue. Here the flag is tied just to the top grommet. The flag stands straight out when the wind is blowing.
I walked through the Black Bear Casino parking lot. I could see bits of patriotism sprinkled about, radio antenna flags, decal flags, and window sticker flags. When I got inside, Mike Himango, the casino manager, gave me a small American flag pin. He said all of the employees are wearing them. The flag was made in China.
In the casino gift shop, I saw more examples of patriotism/commercialism. It is hard to tell the difference when saluting key chains, refrigerator magnets, buttons, pins, and even a car air freshener. As a veteran of the Vietnam War, I wished I could have seen so many flags when I came home.
This is what we are doing to combat terrorism on this part of the Reservation. If we didn't do it this way, then the terrorists will have won (Fond du Lac Follies' favoritest cliché).
* * *
Niswi we call him. He is called so because he is the third Joe Northrup in family history. He is one month shy of the Terrible Twos and has been hanging out at the World Headquarters of the Fond du Lac Follies. He is almost tall enough to reach the doorknobs.
One sunny afternoon he was staring at Elmo on TV, the VCR had been on all morning, the tape ran as he played in the living room. I had spent seven grueling hours listening to that Sesame Street tinny voice and maniacal laughter. I decided to go for a walk with that little boy. I don't know why or how, but he looks like a little Irishman. His smiler works real good and he knows it. His mother dressed him for outside and we left. I carried him down the stairs so we could get outside quicker. As soon as we were out the door, he started wiggling. He wanted to be put down on the snow.
It was bright, sunny, and cool outside, no wind. The sun was shining down the road. We began the walk. He takes tiny four-inch steps, many, many of them. His steps are as long as his shoes. I held his hand until his glove came off, then I was leading him by a string. I walked him around the driveway once to get him used to following me.
I heard myself saying, "This way, Niswi, this way Niswi." With the bright sun behind us, we shadow played. Both of us waved our arms and legs about. Sure enough, the shadows did everything we did. This playing made both of us laugh out loud. He learned the meaning of "Car! Get off the road!"
The boy and I walked off the blacktop of Northrup Road into the woods. Niswi used one word out of the two hundred he knows to describe what he saw ... stick. There were sticks all over the woods. He sampled several before he found one he liked, one that fit his little hand. Niswi drew lines in the snow with his stick, then he slashed it around like a saber.
He continued following me. It was hard walking in the woods with tiny four-inch steps, so I got ahead of him on the trail. I got far enough ahead, and then I stepped behind some trees. I wanted to see what he would do when he found himself alone in the woods. He just followed my tracks to where I was hiding.
Niswi tipped over and used his bare hands to push himself back upright. He did not like the feel of cold, wet snow on his hands. He stared at them. I warmed his hands up with mine, and we continued walking. We turned around and walked home together, smiling. I estimate we walked about a quarter mile. That is many, many four-inch steps.
I felt good inside because I had walked outside with that boy. When we got home, Niswi went to take a nap, and I hid the Elmo tape.
* * *
Ninga-naadoobii iwidi noopiming wayiiba.
Aaniin apii waa-ozhiga'igeyan iwidi Gwaaba'iganing dash.
Mii bijiinag i'iw apii baadaajimowaad aandegwag dash.
Mii zhigwa oshki-ziigwang.
Aaniin dash apane wenji-izhichigeyan i'iw dash.
Apane nimishoomisiban apane gii-izhichige dash.
Awenen ge-wiidookawik iskigamizigeyan dash.
Indinawemaaganig miinawaa dash niwiijiiwaagan dash.
Awenen waa-mawadisik iskigamizigeyan dash.
Awegwen iidog dash.
Aaniin dash apane wenji-izhichigeyan dash.
Niniijaanisag miinawaa dash. Noozhishenyag miinawaa dash akina.
Anishinaabeg niigaan igo ani-nitaa-iskigamizigewag dash.
Awegonen waa-aabajitooyan iwidi iskigamiziganing dash.
Ninga abaji'aag asema dash ininaatigoog dash bagone'igan dash.
Negwaakwaanan dash ziinzibaakwadwaaboo dash
Okaadakik dash misan dash.
lskigamigani-ishkode dash zhingobaandag dash.
Mii iw. Mii sa iw.
* * *
We tapped maple trees again. I like the warm sun and the cool wind at this time of the year. In my family it is an annual tradition. This year we have 200 taps in the trees, but are bragging 250. My grandson Ezigaa led the way into the woods. He carried the drill. Right away he started doing the maple tree dance. He saw a good tree, then another one. He looked some more and found another good one, with one more right beside it. He was twisting and turning in the snow looking at trees.
After an offering of tobacco, the young Shinnob looked closer at the tree. He studied the bark, gazed up at the branches. He looked over his shoulder to see where the sun was and selected a place to drill the tree. As he was drilling the tree, I thought this was the first time he has done this part of gathering maple sap.
I was grampa proud as I am every time he does something like this with me. I like to think he is learning things he can teach his grandchildren. Then I realized that this boy has been going to the sugar bush every year of his life.
When he was really small, I carried him to the woods so he could take part in the seasonal activity. I remember one year he was watching the eagles fly by while I was getting him out of his car seat. When he first went to school, he discovered he could run on top of the crust while the heavier adults broke through the knee-deep snow.
He has helped every year in the sugar bush. His favorite part is running from tree to tree collecting sap. Once I heard him telling his younger cousin to be careful when carrying the sap. He listens to the stories told during sugar bush. Ezigaa has his own stick for working with the fire.
One year he showed some older children how to gather dry wood for fire because they were going to camp at the sugar bush. Another year he took his new snowshoes out for a test walk. Aaron Ezigaa always helps me welcome people to the sugar bush.
One time he was keeping the Reservation Head Start kids from getting too close to the fire and the boiling kettle of sap. He put a rope on the ground around the fire pit, and then he told the younger ones no one could step across the rope but him.
There are always visitors to the sugar bush, and this year started off with a friend from Lower Michigan. Megan brought her daughter, Shannon, and her parents, Alice and Terry. I put them to work right away. We found a tree that still had a tap in it from some previous sugar bush. Megan thought it looked like a little boy tree.
It wasn't until we had tapped forty to fifty trees that I learned Asmat is related to the former king of Afghanistan Zahir Shah. I didn't know I had real royalty tapping trees with me. He seemed very eager to learn. We tapped trees all afternoon.
One afternoon my son Matthew and horseshoe partner Pea and I tapped trees. While we were bent down looking at the trees, Pea was looking at the sky. He saw one eagle, and as we looked up we saw another one. It always feels good to have eagles around.
My son Jim built a sugar shack for boiling sap. The frame is made from cedar trees that were cut to make the new golf course near the casino. My son Joseph has the dry firewood cut, split, and stacked. Jim built a fireplace for the huge stainless steel kettle he had made locally. The fireplace is brick, and Jim used clay from this Reservation to line the fire pit. He is ready to boil the sap I deliver to the sugar shack.
* * *
Question: What did Ezigaa ask for at breakfast?
Answer: Salt taagan and Gaa-wiisa pepper.
* * *
Fond du Lac Follies motored to Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and I couldn't help but wonder who the hell Stevens was and how come he gets a point? While I was at the university, I met Andy Gokee. It has been years since our moccasins were on the same trail. We ate and visited, and as I was leaving Andy gave me a gift. It was a lacrosse stick made of ash. Andy said he learned how to make them from his dad. According to Andy, the game is coming back to this area. He is doing his part by making these beautiful, functional, well-crafted lacrosse sticks.
While I was at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, I recited poetry and read prose as part of Native American Month, or maybe it was Native American Week? Once again, I think every month is our month.
* * *
While on routine patrol at the junkyard, a Fond du Lac Reservation policeman saw a Toyota truck go west on Highway 210. It was about 1:00 am when the policeman began to follow the truck.
Charlie Tuna was driving the truck with cousin Jim LeGrew riding. When Charlie saw the police car behind him, he hoped he wasn't speeding because the speedometer in the truck didn't work. Charlie continued home with the Rez police right behind him. On Maple Drive, about three miles from when they first saw each other, the police turned on their red lights and shined the spotlights into the truck. Charlie stopped and began to cooperate with the Rez police.
The policeman took Charlie's driver's license and insurance information, instructing Charlie to stay in the truck. Charlie asked why he was stopped, and the police officer informed him it was for speeding back on Highway 210.
On the way to return Charlie's license, the police officer did a plain-view search of the truck bed. He saw fish spears. He then opened a bag in the back of the truck and saw fish. He asked what kind they were. Charlie told him the fish were speared in Lake Superior and were to be used in a ceremony and to feed some elders.
The policeman asked if Charlie had any weapons besides the spears. Charlie mentioned the little knife that he uses for cleaning his fingernails. The police officer wanted to see that and then confiscated that knife, which had a two-inch blade.
After a long time sitting on the dark road, the policeman came back and told Charlie they were going to take his fish and spears. Charlie offered to clean them before they did that, but the policeman said no, they would take care of it.
Charlie drove home and the police left with the spears and fish.
Charlie went to the police and got his knife back before the case went to tribal court.
The case moved from Maple Drive to the court. After a hearing, many months passed by and occasionally Charlie thought about his fish. Finally one day, some four months after the original stop, Charlie got his fish back.
I saw the returned fish. There were seven fish in a white plastic sack, appearing to be frozen into a ball shape. Charlie is thinking of having the Rez biologists test the fish for mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants. Charlie did not get a ticket for speeding and that was the original reason for the flashing red lights. Were the police on a fishing expedition here?
* * *
The sugar bush is starting to run slow now. I think we will make our last boil soon. I haven't heard the frogs yet, so my taps are still in the trees.
This has been an interesting season with international visitors. Francois, the French chef, brought his brother from Marseilles, France. We put them to work chopping wood. Francois also brought Satchiko and Wentaro, Japanese students from Minneapolis. They helped with cutting dry wood. We learned that Satchiko is a flamenco dancer, but we didn't see her dance.
Then, of course, there was Asmat from Afghanistan. He tapped trees. Meli, a TV journalist, came from Macedonia to the sugar bush. He drank some sap, and I forgot to tell him about the dribble jug. He wore sap on his jacket when he left Sawyer. Finally, Kentaro from Japan and Mikhail from the Netherlands visited us at the World Headquarters of the Fond du Lac Follies on Northrup Road. Waffles anyone?
* * *
Question: Are you related to him?
Answer: He is my second to the last cousin.
* * *
I peeled birch bark for the first time this season. Seems like just last week I was wading in the snow at the sugar bush. It is a bit early, but when I take my time, the bark comes off in a large sheet. It is like I have to coax it to leave the tree and travel with me. Once again, Ezigaa, my now-twelve-year-old grandson, and I will be in the woods looking for bark for our baskets. We are living another seasonal cycle on this Rez. I have been spending a lot of time walking in the woods looking for birch bark so I can make fanning baskets for wild rice. It is like something or someone is guiding me to places where I can find good bark. After almost twenty years of making those baskets, called nooshkaachinaagan, I think I am getting good at it. Over the years I have made every mistake possible and have learned how to fix them. Every year people come to learn how to make them. I am glad to share what I have learned. I wish I had been paying more attention when my grampa was making them. Perhaps I could have avoided some of the mistakes.
* * *
This is about driving a Corvette. As some may recall, my wife won a '64 Corvette in a drawing at the Black Bear Casino last year. The engine is a newer Corvette engine. My friend Ray calls it an L-88 engine. The car was in storage over the winter, and it is now back on the road. My son Matthew and I picked up the car in the Cities. It just needed a jump start, and soon the motor was rumbling. We took the top down and looked cool in the Corvette for about thirty miles. Then the pretty sports car died, and I could not get it started again. We rented a dolly and loaded the car onto the unit. That damned car even looked good sitting on the dolly.
The car was dragged home, where it became a very expensive lawn ornament. I looked at it for two days, and my ace mechanic, brother-in law John Fineday, thought it needed a new module inside the distributor cap. The car is so exotic we had to order the part, and it arrived in a couple of days. That little bit of plastic and wire came to more than sixty bucks. High maintenance, indeed.
My friend Walter and I replaced the module. I got behind the wheel and tried to start it. No go, no fire to the spark plugs. Now what? We checked and the car was delivering gasoline. We inspected the coil and saw a tiny, tiny wire that was broken. I made the necessary repairs, and I got behind the wheel again. This time it fired up.
Walter and I took it for a ride. It was scary fast, I thought. I drove around town to visit my relatives and friends. I gave everyone a ride who wanted one and let some of them drive this true American sports car. All of the drivers said it was too fast for them. Some of my older relatives wouldn't even get in for a ride.
After several days of driving that sports car around, I decided it was too much car for me. So, for anyone interested, I have a '64 Corvette for sale. It has had almost thirty-five hundred dollars worth of repair work done on it. I am easy to find. I am the guy always coming out of the auto parts store.
* * *
Question: How did you know he liked powwows?
Answer: He sets up camp on Wednesday.
* * *
A long time ago, back when dinosaurs stalked the earth, I was a teenager. I attended Brainerd Indian Training School in Hot Springs, South Dakota. The school was operated by the Wesleyan Methodist Tribe. The lead dog at the school was a man named William D. Gale. President Gale was there to minister to the godless heathens.
As I recall, our weeks went like this: church three hours on Sunday morning, three hours Sunday evening, an hour of chapel every day, and a three-hour prayer meeting on Wednesday evenings.
Some forty years later I got a call from President Gale. Uh-oh, do I still owe him some demerits? The school had a policy of merits and demerits. For example, if one could memorize Bible verses and recite them, merits were earned. If one acted like a teenager, demerits were issued. I left the school under a dark cloud, one of the unsaved ones. I may still owe demerits.
It turns out Brother Gale was passing through and wanted to stop in Sawyer and visit me. He stopped and I wasn't at home. He left some copies of a book he had written called I Sat Where They Sat. In the book, Brother Gale reveals how he got the name Chief Hugs Himself. I sat down and began to read and got as far as the Indian Ten Commandments. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Rez Salute by Jim Northrup. Copyright © 2012 Jim Northrup. Excerpted by permission of Fulcrum Publishing.
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