'This is where my roots are': Pandemic brings woman home to southern Minnesota

A grandmother and her granddaughter.
Pat Northrup and her granddaughter stand in their jingle dresses, after dancing for healing from the COVID-19 outbreak in her apartment in Cloquet, Minn., in March.
Dan Kraker | MPR News file

Back in March, Pat Northrup met the coronavirus with a dance of healing.

As Minnesota registered its first COVID-19 cases, she and some friends, along with her daughter and granddaughter, gathered for a jingle dress dance in her Cloquet, Minn., apartment.

It was something she could contribute to help, she said, in a time of growing fear and uncertainty.

But then, just a couple weeks later, fear of the virus upended her own life. Someone in her apartment building contracted COVID-19. And Northrup was scared. She decided that, if she were to get sick, too, she wanted to be closer to her children and most of her family.

And she worried about what would happen if she got the coronavirus. She’s 70, which puts her at higher risk for the disease’s more serious effects. She worried that, if she got COVID-19, she might not survive it.

"I wanted to be buried down by my reservation in southern Minnesota, at Lower Sioux,” she said. “And I just thought, you know, if I were to get COVID, I'd be there in Cloquet, I'd just be a hardship for my family, them trying to get me home. So, I said, well, maybe it's time to go — to go home."

So the next day, in the middle of April, she drove to her daughter's house in Redwood Falls, Minn., four hours from Cloquet — but just a few miles west of the Lower Sioux Indian Community where she grew up.

"This is where my roots are. This is where, as soon as I came back, I felt real comfortable,” she said. “The stress left me about the COVID, knowing that if something happened to me, I would be buried here, and I wouldn't be a hardship on my kids."

At first, she just planned to stay until the pandemic subsided. But it dragged on, for months.

"Then a good friend of the family came by, and she said that she had a house that was being remodeled and would we be interested in renting it?” she said. “So there was my answer."

Northrup stayed. She was young, she said, when she left home to get married. Her husband, the well-known Ojibwe writer Jim Northrup, was a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. They lived together, up north, for nearly four decades until he died four years ago.

Now, Pat Northrup said, it's good to finally be home, with her relatives nearby.

"I haven't been able to sit and visit with all of them because of the COVID,” she said. “But just knowing that my family is here, has been really nice."

She’s looking forward to getting the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as she can in the new year. In the meantime, she's savoring this new season in her life, and the ways she can be present for her family, now that she's close by.

She recently brought a pot of soup over for a sick cousin, something she hasn't been able to do for decades.

It's those little things, especially now, she says, that make a big difference.

Looking back, looking ahead: As 2020 comes to a close, several MPR News reporters have been checking back in with people they met earlier in the pandemic — about how their lives have changed, and about what they're hopeful for in the new year.

COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

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