Fond du Lac Follies: Jetting to Lansing for Returning the Gift

By Jim Northrup
News From Indian Country 4-08

It is with great happiness I report that our Rez newspaper editor is back on the job. Deb Locke just took a little break in the action and is now back at the helm deciding what news we should read. She even promised to print some things I write. I haven’t had anything in the Rez newspaper since the mid-80s when I was the newspaper editor. Do you think they would dare to carry the Fond du Lac Follies? I didn’t think so either.

Fond du Lac Follies jetted to Lansing, Michigan, for Returning the Gift, a Native Writers Conference. I wondered about that title, is Returning the Gift the same as being an Indian Giver?

The event was presented by the Michigan State University American Indians Studies Program and Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

I have a fear of flying for two reasons. The first is the idea of hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour in a thin aluminum tube, four-five miles above the ground. I knew I was riding with professionals, experienced pilots and tremendous support people but what if something broke? I know anything made by man can break and I was hoping the thousands of parts that make up a jet airliner would all stay together for the flight to Detroit. In Detroit I wondered the same things about a different airplane on the short hop to Lansing.

The second fear of flying I have is the passenger screening process. I keep reading in the papers about horror stories that people have told about their meeting with the Transportation Security Administration, the TSA, another set of Fed initials. I hear about the no-fly list and wonder if anyone has added my name since the last time I flew. It would be embarrassing to find out you can’t fly because of that list. Jeez, getting excited about taking a trip, conquering the first fear about flying, getting to the airport on time and then finding out the plane is leaving without you.

I wore clean socks because I knew I had to remove my moccasins before I got on the plane. I passed through the security screen with no problems and got on the airplane for my boring flight to Michigan.

I set up camp in a Marriot hotel after a short shuttle ride. I noticed there wasn’t much snow in Michigan, they were done with winter already.

I strolled over to the student union where the event was held. Right away I met Dr. Susan Krause, the director of the American Indian Studies program. She introduced me to her helper Betsy Caldwell who fixed me up with a schedule, meal tickets, and a short tour of our conference area. I got a little sign to hang around my neck that identified me as a presenter.

Ten Native writers were selected to read from their works Thursday evening. I joined Eric Gansworth, Qwo-Li-Driskill, Richard Van Camp, Pun Plamondon, Charlene Bearskin, David Heath Justice, LeAnne Howe, Debbie Reese and her daughter Elizabeth Reese. David Treuer from Leech Lake was the final reader.

During the in between times I got to meet other skin writers. I saw Brenda Child, of Red Lake was there. So was Helen Roy of Michigan. It was good to see Dr. LaVonne Ruoff also. I had met her 15-20 years ago in Chicago. At that time she suggested I write my biography for publication in her American Indian Lives series. I told her I was too young and had a lot of living and writing to do. This time she told me it was time.

My workshop was called Ingii ozhibii’ige ezhi-waybak ishkoniganing, or How I saved Minnesota. My workshop had nothing to do with saving Minnesota, it was just a catchy title. I had writing exercises that illustrated character, setting, and plot. 35 writers came to the class and all of their heads were bent down writing for most of the class time.

Dr. Margaret Noori was there. She teaches at the University in Ann Arbor. She has helped me with my writing and publishing before and we met to do it again on a new book project of mine.

The next morning we attended workshops by the Treuer brothers. David talked in the morning workshop. In his afternoon workshop Tony Treuer spoke mostly in Ojibwe.

Actually we four Minnesota Anishinaabeg authors outnumbered any other tribe. Do you think the next Indian Givers conference should be held in Minnesota?

The airplane ride home was uneventful, my favoritest kind.

It is warm and I saw the first drop of maple sap come through my tap. A sweet sugar bush story will be in the next Follies.

Mii sa iw.