Subtexts A farewell to author Jim Northrup
The Ojibwe writer and poet Jim Northrup died on Aug. 1, 2016, in Sawyer, Minnesota, from advanced kidney cancer. Northrup was born on April 28, 1943, on the Fond du Lac Chippewa reservation in Minnesota. He was sent to a federal Indian boarding school at age six, but he kept in touch with his family and resisted assimilation in a variety of creative ways — which landed him in reform school for a time as a teenager. He graduated from a public high school in Carleton, Minnesota, in 1961, and then enlisted in the U.S. Marines, going on to fight in Vietnam. After the war he worked in construction; his writing came out of storytelling with family and friends. A 20th anniversary edition of Walking the Rez Road, originally published in 1993, was issued in 2013 by Fulcrum Publishing. In many of the short stories in that book, Northrup’s recurring main character and alter-ego, Luke Warmwater, appears as a man who comes home from the war to a reservation struggling with poverty and a corrupt tribal government. The Rez Road Follies: Canoes, Casinos, Computers, and Birch Bark Baskets (1997) is a collection of humorous essays about modern Native American culture, as is Rez Salute: The Real Healer Dealer (Fulcrum Publishing, 2012).
Northrup, who wrote in English and Ojibwe, learned to speak his Native language as an adult. He often wrote about post-traumatic stress disorder from the Vietnam War — a condition from which Luke Warmwater also suffered — and wanted his work to bring camaraderie and healing to others who had gone through similar experiences. His column, Fond du Lac Follies, was syndicated in several Native newspapers and websites, including Indian Country Today and The Circle, and ran from 1989 through 2014. Northrup is survived by his wife, Patricia; six sons, two daughters, four sisters, three brothers, 16 grandchildren, and seven greatgrandchildren. — Jennifer Levin