Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
March 11, 2000 - Issue 05

By Jim Northrup

Editors Note: I'd like to thank Jim Northrup for giving us permission to share his story about Sugarbush....Pimada, Jim :)

Yup, we made maple syrup again. The cycle of seasons continues and we were able to gather our share of the annual gift. I told my grandson, Aaron, the Creator must like us: we were given syrup again.

Last month, my brother, Vern, Aaron, and I made snowshoe trails to walk on at the sugar bush. We did a good job but at the last minute we moved the sugar bush. We went to another place that had hip-deep snow. My cousin, Chuck Greensky (identified as Chuck Greenday in a story by Julie Shortbread), and our kids made new trails in the new sugar bush. We like taking our kids along when we do things like this. It gives them fuel for their I-used-to-go-to-the-sugar-bush-with-my-dad stories. I think the cold outside air makes you sleep more. After breaking trails all day, we went home and slept like Rip Van White Guy.

My brother, Russ, and cousin, Butch Martineau, are at their sugar bush. Butch said he tapped one tree that squirted like a fire hydrant, cutting trenches in the snow. I told him all my trees squirt like that. Russ and Butch like sugar bush and the storytelling that goes on there. Russ did a great imitation of a Sawyer elder talking sugarbush: "You just tap the trees and then you just wait." He used the gestures and voice that we all recognized as belonging to one of our family members. It is the kind of story you hear around a boiling kettle of hot sap, eyes burning in the wood smoke.

A van load of teenagers came from St. Cloud. They wanted to camp out as part of the sugar bush experience. Too bad it was rainy and snowy. We told them about the Black Bear Hotel with the video arcade, swimming pool, and Jacuzzi. The adults didn't want us to think they were city Indians, so they stayed in the woods. We checked on them the next morning; their fire was still smoldering.

Aaron introduced them to his woods and his sugar bush. He was a tour guide for the older children from the city. After he showed them around, he helped gather standing dry wood for their fire. I shouldn't be surprised-he's been going to sugar bush all of his life, all six, almost seven, years of it.

My son, Jim, built the frame I use for hanging my kettle. It is still good for a few more seasons. We boiled sap into syrup. A lot of people surrounded the fire. My niece, Deb, her husband, Greg, and three daughters put in quite a few hours at our sugar bush-enough hours that they are talking about where they are going to put their own sugar bush next year. They came to learn and now they can make their own syrup.

One day the children from the Reservation Head Start program showed up. I guess we're a field trip for them. I wonder how many of those real young Shinnobs will be making syrup when they grow up? The children had a taste of real maple syrup before they left. I don't know how many there were; they were moving and it was hard to get a good count.

The visitor that came the farthest has got to be Nadia. She has a last name but I can't spell it or pronounce it so I won't even try. She came from Sweden by way of Thunder Bay. She read the Follies when she was a nanny in Chicago some years back and continued to read it in Sweden. We connected and she came to meet the family. I'd never seen so many of my relatives when they heard we had a visitor from Sweden. It was mostly male relatives when the moccasin telegraph reported that Nadia was young and single.

We discovered that Nadia likes to cook, so we ate European-style for a while. It was a change from our usual oatmeal/wild rice/meat-and-potato diet. She learned sugar bush real fast.

My wife and I wanted to show her how some of the real Indians lived, so we took her to bingo. She had an out but was three numbers behind, so I don't think she knew. I couldn't tell her since I was the competition. Pat was already playing one of her boards. At half time, Nadia got reckless and threw four quarters into a slot machine. Reckless people, these Swedes, I thought.

Pat took Nadia to catch her bus back to Thunder Bay and Sweden. I think we will be seeing her again. I hope she comes during ricing; we can use her help in the parching kettle.

Jim Denomie, noted Ojibwe artist, stopped in long enough to help gather sap while gathering images of sugar bush. He brought friends and family on a one-day escape from the city.

Sometimes, just for grins, I look at the "maple" syrup in the store. Three percent? Ours is 100 percent and is made by a lot of human hands. Sugar bush has come and gone again. The snow was hip-deep when we started and now we're walking on the leaves of last fall. Along the way we have seen eagles and hawks, deer and a porcupine, and a lot of people. I like the sound of laughter in the woods when the children are running from tree to tree collecting the gift.

QUESTION OF THE MONTH X. XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXX XXX XX X? X. CANCELLED by a ruling of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. An appeal to the ruling will be heard in June.

I was ready to go spearing again. The Federal Court said we had treaty rights in the 1837 ceded territory.

The Reservation and the 1854 Authority were preparing for the upcoming spearing season.

I went to a meeting at the Black Bear Hotel where the information about the spearing season was presented to the people of Fond du Lac. I was impressed; a lot of work had been done to prepare for our first legal use of the treaty rights. Our game wardens and biologists were there to explain their roles in the upcoming harvest. The biologists talked about the right time to spear, according to the water temperature. The game wardens showed maps and told of the coordinated law-enforcement plans. The game wardens told us the Minnesota National Guard was standing by to back up local law enforcement. Jeez, I thought, they got tanks and helicopters.

That very same afternoon we learned the Judge from the 8th Circuit Appeals Court won't let Fonjalackers or the Bands from Wisconsin use their treaty rights. Mille Lacs is the only Anishinaabeg Band that can gather food for ceremonial purposes. Still trying to divide us, I see. I don't think the Appeals Court knows anything about ceremonial purposes. Further, I don't think they can tell me when to have a ceremony.

The views expressed in this column belong to the writer alone. They are not meant to represent this newspaper, the Fond du Lac Reservation, Fonjalackers, Judges, game wardens, the 1854 Authority, the RBC, eagles and hawks, my neighbor, my cousin, Rathide, or my wife, Patricia. Comments and questions can be sent to FDL Follies, PO Box 16, Sawyer, MN 55780-0016, or by e-mail at northrup@ cp.duluth.

The Circle
May 1997

To learn more about Jim Northrup and his writings visit:
Jim Northrup

A few words about Jim Northrup ...

I first learned of Jim almost 20 years ago. He was reading his poetry about his feelings of the Vietnam War at a pow wow in Mankato, Minnesota. Although I did not enter that circle and I did not stop to listen, I knew that he was saying some very powerful things, full of emotion but with great respect for his fellow veterans.

Over time, I have come to know Jim as a writer who tells stories of everyday life with great humor and love. Jim writes a column, "Fond du Lac Follies", that appears in several Native American newspapers, his poetry has won several awards and his books have also won awards and made many friends of Jim Northrup. He has also written and staged two plays.

Jim is a veteran of the Vietnam War, having served with the Third Marine Division, in country.

He is Anishanaabe committed to preserving his traditions and language. Jim, his wife Patricia, and his family follow the seasons to learn and preserve those traditional ways. He is also a teacher, willing to share his traditions with those who are willing to learn and take part in those traditional practices. Bystanders are not allowed. I know I am very fortunate to have tasted the maple syrup that Jim and his family made. I know I am fortunate to have shared some of his rice harvest too. Perhaps, best of all, I have shared his company and humor.

Pamida, Jim.

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