Jim Northrup's son recalls his father's gifts of language

Jim Northrup outside his home in Sawyer.
Jim Northrup outside his home in Sawyer, Minn., on April 20.
Euan Kerr | MPR News file

Jim Northrup, an Ojibwe writer, poet, and performer will be laid to rest in a traditional Anishinaabe ceremony Friday morning in his hometown of Sawyer, Minn. Northrup died of cancer on Monday at age 73.

Son Matthew Northrup said a major part of his father's legacy is his lifelong effort to preserve the Ojibwe language. When his father was a child, teachers at an infamous Indian boarding school forced him to forget the indigenous tongue.

"They beat the language out of him," Northrup said in an interview with Tom Crann, host of All Things Considered. "He spoke it when he went there, and they removed it from him and sent him back to the reservation with English only. So it was a lifetime experience for him to re-learn the language and be able to pass that on to other generations."

Northrup was also known for his syndicated newspaper column, Fond du Lac Follies, where he chronicled modern Native American life with pointed humor.

He focused much of his poetry on his time in Vietnam, where he served with the U.S. Marine Corps.

Matthew Northrup said his father was proud of his military service, but was not keen on his son following in his footsteps.

"To be a member of a warrior class within our culture was very important to him, but he was also worried about me serving," Northrup said "He told me if I ever joined the military he'd beat me up. I had to do it surreptitiously."

Jim Northrup lived a traditional life with Pat, his wife of 37 years, on the Fond du Lac Reservation near Duluth.

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