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April 28, 1943 – August 1, 2016 Jim Northrup Remembered

jimyellowshirt-1By Laura Waterman Wittstock

The early 1970s were an important time for American Indian journalism and one of its favorite pastimes was to take satirical looks at contemporary life in the varied communities across the United States, known as “Indian Country.” Federal lawmaking and policy began to flower, so it was natural for the American Indian Press Association to locate in Washington, D.C. This national news service began in 1970 and sent weekly news reporting out by mail to over 150 American Indian print newspapers and newsletters. They, too, were proliferating and could support the news service.

It isn’t clear who came up with the handle, but an erstwhile Indian everyman became known as “Luke Warmwater.” Sometimes he was an Indian journalist, and sometimes he was just the foil of the many jokes about representations of those inept individuals who resided on the ends of the political spectrum. Then he died, as that phase of Indian journalism died and a new phase emerged sometime in the 1980s.

Then in 1993, Walking the Rez Road was published and with the book, the character “Luke Warmater” reemerged, now to be remembered forever in the work of Ojibwe writer Jim Northrup. He died on August 1, 2016 from kidney cancer. Jim connected his illness to the time he was fighting as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam. He was 73 years old.

Jim’s time in Vietnam placed him among the 43,000 who served in the military there from 1959 to 1975. There are 232 names on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. of American Indian and Alaska Native service members who were killed or missing in action during that war. This followed a tradition of military service that extends back to the Civil War when tribes offered up their young warriors for service to the Confederacy or Union and continued to World War I, all before tribal members became U.S. citizens. Service continue through World War II, Korea and then Vietnam, and continues today. So great is the service population that it represents nearly ten percent of the Indian population – triple that of the non-Indian population.

Jim’s book, Walking the Rez Road (1993), places Luke Warmwater, the Vietnam Vet, who in Jim’s words, survived the war but is having “trouble/surviving the peace,” in the boots of many Indians like him who also went home to uncertain lives. And that includes Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.

Jim’s other books are:

The Red Road Folies: Canoes, Computers, and Birth Bark Baskets (1999)

Nitaawichige: Selected Poetry and Prose by Four Anishinaabe Writers, with Denise Sweet (2002)

Anishinaabe Syndicated: A View from the Rez (2011)

Rez Salute: The Real Healer Dealer (2012)

Walking the Rez Road: Stories, 20th Anniversary Edition (2013)

Dirty Copper (2014)

Plays:

Shinob Jep (1997)

Rez Road 2000 (2000)

For many other Anishinaabe people, however, Jim was best known for his annual language and culture camp on the Fond du Lac reserve, his home. The camp started in 1998 by Jim, his wife Pat and family friend Rick Gresczyk. Campers came from Indian communities, but also from other countries and many Americans who belonged to no tribe. The camps are generally four days long and include basket demonstrations and making, games that allow practice in the Ojibwe language to take play, and much storytelling, along with language lessons.

Jim’s family usually processed maple syrup and sugar in the spring, fished in the spring and summer, harvested wild rice in the early fall, and hunted in deer season. Thus the year-round seasonal observations of Ojibwe life were deep in the culture and language Jim and his wife practiced. Jim Northrup had no difficulty surviving the peace after his war experiences in a country 8,000 miles away.

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