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Northrup, James Warren (1943–2016)

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Jim Northrup, ca. 2010s. Photograph by Ivy Vainio. Used with the permission of Ivy Vainio.

Jim Northrup, ca. 2010s. Photograph by Ivy Vainio. Used with the permission of Ivy Vainio.

James Warren Northrup was an award-winning Ojibwe author, columnist, playwright, poet, performer, political commentator, and Vietnam War veteran. He wrote extensively on combat life as a marine in the Vietnam War as well as daily life on the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation. The combination of these topics gives his works broad crossover appeal.

At six years old, Northrup was sent, together with his sister, to the federally run Pipestone Indian School (Pipestone, Minnesota). It had been established as part of a movement in the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries to assimilate Native American children into mainstream Euro-American culture at boarding schools. Suffering from homesickness and physically abused by both teachers and students, Northrup tried to run away from Pipestone, making it nine miles before being caught. While forced to speak only English at school, Northrup resisted assimilation by regularly exchanging letters with his family on the reservation.

After four years in Pipestone, Northrup attended a public school in Minneapolis from fifth through seventh grades. He was then sent to the Brainerd Indian Training School, a Christian boarding school in South Dakota run by the Wesleyan Methodist Church. In 1961, Northrup became the first Native American graduate of Carlton High School in Carlton, Minnesota.

After high school, Northrup enlisted in the US Marine Corps. In 1965, he joined the Indian Company, Third Battalion, Ninth Marines for a thirteen-month tour in Vietnam, during which time he developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then an unknown condition. After his tour ended, Northrup worked as a deputy with the Carlton County Sheriff's Office, and as a patrolman for the Waukegan Police Department in Illinois. He traveled around the country for a decade before finally returning to the reservation in 1976. Looking back on his decade away from home, Northrup believed that the trauma of war kept him from immediately returning: “I didn't want to bring the stink of war back with me.”

Upon returning to Sawyer, Minnesota, Northrup set up home in a tipi on the north side of Perch Lake, where he lived off and on for six years. In 1986, he married Patricia Dow, and the couple raised eight children together.

From 1989, Northrup wrote a syndicated column, “Fond du Lac Follies,” distributed every month in national Native American newspapers such as the Circle, the Native American Press, and News from Indian Country. “Fond du Lac Follies” was named best column at the 1999 Native American Journalists Association convention.

Northrup’s first book, Walking the Rez Road (1993), a collection of short stories and poems in English and Ojibwe, won the Midwest Book Achievement Award, the Minnesota Book Award, and the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award. Through the point of view of the fictional protagonist Luke Warmwater, Northrup reflects on the trauma of war and the quiet desperation of life on a reservation. PTSD support groups within the US Department of Veterans Affairs use some of the poems from Northrup’s book, including "Shrinking Away" and "Wahbegan," in group discussions.

His second book, The Rez Road Follies: Canoes, Casinos, Computers, and Birch Bark Baskets (1997), explores in greater depth many taboo topics, including suicides, Agent Orange, and the effect of casinos on Native life. Despite the sensitive nature of his subject matter, Northrup writes with cutting wit and dark humor.

In addition to writing several books and a successful syndicated column, Northrup also contributed to a number of anthologies, mentored Minnesota local writers, wrote several plays, and appeared in numerous films, including the 1997 award-winning video “Jim Northrup: With Reservations.” He also gave radio commentaries on the Superior Radio Network, National Public Radio, Fresh Air Radio, and the BBC Scotland.

Northrup passed away on August 1, 2016, due to complications from kidney cancer. He was seventy-three.

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Hollingsworth, Jana L. “A Voice for the People': Renowned Ojibwe Author Jim Northrup Remembered.” DuluthNewsTribune.com, August 2, 2016.
https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/4086685-voice-people-renowned-ojibwe-author-jim-northrup-remembered

“Jim Northrup: Storyteller, Author, Playwright, Poet, Family Man, Veteran, Anishinaabe.” DuluthNewStribune.com, August 29, 2010.
https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/2413781-jim-northrup-storyteller-author-playwright-poet-family-man-veteran-anishinaabe

NativeAmerican-Authors.com. “Jim Northrup, Native American Writer & Poet.”
http://nativeamerican-authors.com/northrup.html

Northrup, Jim. Anishinaabe Syndicated: A View from the Rez. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011.

——— . The Rez Road Follies: Canoes, Casinos, Computers, and Birch Bark Baskets. [United States]: Kodansha International, 1997.

——— . “Time to Harvest Maple Sap and I Do Not Like Pipelines.” IndianCountryNews.com, June 3, 2014.
https://www.indiancountrynews.com/index.php/columnists/jim-northrup/14038-time-to-harvest-maple-sap-and-i-do-not-like-pipelines

——— . Walking the Rez Road. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 1993.

Pheifer, Pat. “Ojibwe Storyteller and Writer Jim Northrup Dies at Age 73.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 2, 2016.
http://www.startribune.com/storyteller-and-writer-jim-northrup-has-died-at-73/388903021

Roberts, Sam. “Jim Northrup, Vietnam Veteran Who Wrote About Reservation Life, Dies at 73.” New York Times, August 4, 2016.
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/04/books/jim-northrup-vietnam-veteran-who-wrote-about-life-on-the-reservation-dies-at-73.html

Related Images

Jim Northrup, ca. 2010s. Photograph by Ivy Vainio. Used with the permission of Ivy Vainio.
Jim Northrup, ca. 2010s. Photograph by Ivy Vainio. Used with the permission of Ivy Vainio.
Jim Northrup and Margaret Noodin in Sawyer, Minnesota, ca. 2011. Photo by Ivy Vainio. Used with the permission of Ivy Vainio.
Jim Northrup and Margaret Noodin in Sawyer, Minnesota, ca. 2011. Photo by Ivy Vainio. Used with the permission of Ivy Vainio.
Cover art for Jim Northrup’s Anishinaabe Syndicated (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011).
Cover art for Jim Northrup’s Anishinaabe Syndicated (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011).
Cover art of Jim Northrup’s Days of Obsidian Days of Grace (Poetry Harbor, 1994).
Cover art of Jim Northrup’s Days of Obsidian Days of Grace (Poetry Harbor, 1994).
Cover art of The Rez Road Follies, by Jim Northrup (Kodansha International, 1997).
Cover art of The Rez Road Follies, by Jim Northrup (Kodansha International, 1997).
Cover art of Walking the Rez Road (Voyageur Press, 1993), by Jim Northrup.
Cover art of Walking the Rez Road (Voyageur Press, 1993), by Jim Northrup.
Postcard advertising Jim Northrup’s play Rez Road Follies, which was performed at the Illusion Theater, May 18–June 4, 1995. The back of the postcard includes a description of the play, performance schedule, price list and theater information. Northrup, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, is from Minnesota.
Postcard advertising Jim Northrup’s play Rez Road Follies, which was performed at the Illusion Theater, May 18–June 4, 1995. The back of the postcard includes a description of the play, performance schedule, price list and theater information. Northrup, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, is from Minnesota.

Turning Point

Northrup’s first book, Walking the Rez Road (1993), wins the Midwest Book Achievement Award, the Minnesota Book Award, and the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award.

Chronology

1943

Northrup is born to James Northrup Sr. and the former Alice Shabiashin.

1947

Northrup and one of his sisters are forced to attend the federal Pipestone Indian School in Pipestone, Minnesota.

1961

Northrup becomes the first Native American graduate of Carlton High School in Carlton, Minnesota.

1961

Northrup enlists in the US Marine Corps.

1965

Northrup joins the Indian Company, Third Battalion, Ninth Marines for a thirteen-month tour in Vietnam.

1986

Northrup marries Patricia Dow; the couple go on to raise eight children together.

1989

Northrup starts writing the “Fond du Lac Follies” column.

1992

Northrup publishes the poetry collection Three More: Poems.

1993

Northrup publishes Walking the Rez Road.

1994

Northrup publishes the poetry collection Days of Obsidian, Days of Grace (together with Adrian Louis, Al Hunter, and Denise Sweet).

1997

Northrup publishes The Rez Road Follies: Canoes, Casinos, Computers, and Birch Bark Baskets. The same year, he writes and performs the play “Shinnob Jep” as part of the Indian Humor exhibition at the University of Minnesota’s Weisman Art Museum.

2000

Northrup writes and produces Rez Road 2000, a play that debuts at the History Theatre in St. Paul for a five-week run.

2011

The Minnesota Historical Society Press publishes Northrup’s Anishinaabe Syndicated: A View from the Rez.

2014

Fulcrum Publishing releases Dirty Copper, Northrup’s prequel to Rez Road Follies.

2016

Northrup passes away due to complications from kidney cancer.