Louise Erdrich Live: SDHC Zoom Program Features Acclaimed Author March 25

National Book Award Winner to Discuss Native American Electoral Access

By Ryan Woodard

SDHC'S discussion series Voting: Why It Matters adds a literary perspective next week by featuring Louise Erdrich, an author whose brilliant prose has earned her numerous honors, deep respect, and a reputation as one of America's finest writers. Erdrich, 2012 National Book Award winner and 2008 One Book South Dakota Author, will discuss Native American electoral access during a virtual conversation with SDPB radio host Lori Walsh on March 25 at 7 pm CDT.

Native American Advocate, Author

Erdrich has written 17 novels since the 1970s, focused primarily on the experience of Native Americans in the United States. A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, she has long been an advocate for Native American causes: she turned down an Honorary Doctorate from the University of North Dakota due to her opposition to the controversial Fighting Sioux mascot, and she writes regularly about issues such as missing and murdered Indigenous women and tribal resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Her latest book, The Night Watchman, aligns thematically with previous Voting: Why It Matters events, which have covered everything from women's rights movements to lawmakers' attempts to restrict ballot access.

The Night Watchman is based on Erdrich's grandfather's resistance of Congress's attempts to withdraw federal recognition for his tribe, a process that began in the 1950s and was referred to as "termination."

"Termination was a way to finally resolve . . . what Congress thought of as the Indian problem, and that would be to move everyone off reservation land because it wouldn't be reservation land anymore, turn over their land, sell their land, move everyone to cities," she said in an interview with NPR. "And the most important part in doing that was to abrogate all treaties."

Just as Gloria Steinem, whose Feb. 18 event with Sally Roesch Wagner drew hundreds of viewers around the US, has become synonymous with the second-wave feminism of the 1960s and '70s, so too has Louise Erdrich become symbolic of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance in literature. Her writing has historically drawn attention to social issues that have plagued Native American tribes since Columbus arrived.

"Louise Erdrich is certainly an authoritative voice on social injustice, cultural erasure, and survival," said South Dakota Festival of Books Director Jennifer Widman. "Her novels are so widely read not only because they illuminate the unique experiences of Native American and mixed-race people, but also because they are beautifully, even poetically, written."

'Master Butchers Singing Club' was 2008 One Book SD

As a well-known author and advocate who just released a novel about tribal treaty rights being infringed upon by the government, Erdrich is well-prepared to discuss Native American electoral access.

"As a chronicler and advocate of movements for racial justice, she provides an honest and realistic perspective," Widman said. "We are honored and excited to have her join our series of discussions about voting rights."

Born in Little Falls, MN, to an Ojibwe mother and a German-American father, Erdrich weaves mixed heritage into highly successful works of poetry, non-fiction, and, most famously, novels. The critically acclaimed Master Butchers Singing Club was the 2008 One Book South Dakota, and The Round House won the 2012 National Book Award.

New York Times Book Review writer Maria Russo said of The Round House, which follows an Ojibwe sexual assault survivor and her family as they seek justice amidst the competing jurisdictions of the federal, state, and tribal governments: "Law is meant to put out society's brush fires, but in Native American history it has often acted more like the wind. Louise Erdrich turns this dire reality into a powerful human story in her new novel."

Erdrich has consistently topped bestseller lists, creating place-based literature that has made its way to readers worldwide. Raised in North Dakota by parents teaching at a school run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Erdrich made a career of telling tales based on her early life as a young woman of mixed heritage in a country where racism has been prevalent.

Several of her novels, including Love Medicine (1984), Tracks (1988), Tales of Burning Love (1997), and Four Souls (2004), focus on three interrelated families living on or near a reservation in the fictional town of Argus, ND.

"In an astonishing, virtuoso performance sustained over more than two decades, Erdrich has produced...interlinked novels that braid the lives of a series of fallible, lovable, and unpredictable characters of German, Cree, Métis, and Ojibwe heritage," wrote Elizabeth Blair in World and I.

"The painful history of Indian-white relations resonates throughout her work. In her hands, we laugh and cry while listening to and absorbing home truths that, taken to heart, have the power to change our world. We listen because these truths come sinew-stitched into the very fabric of the tapestry she weaves so artfully."

Other Scheduled Events

The next Voting: Why It Matters event, "Who Votes in South Dakota?," will feature experts Frank Pommersheim, Amy Scott-Stolz, Sen. Troy Heinert, and Rep. Tamara St. John examining voter access among the state's population on Tuesday, April 6, at 7 pm CT/6 pm MT.

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This program was funded by the "Why It Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation" initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.