Finding good birch bark

by Jim Northrup
I have made a mistake about the age of the Fond du Lac Follies.

Fond du Lac Follies has been in print since 1989. In earlier years I thought I had started in 1986 but I was wrong. A search of the files by Dr. Larry Gross found the true beginning in 1989. That is a long time ago and also a lot of words ago. Initially the column was a thousand words but is now 800 words. In that time period I missed three months. I guess I am a mouthy guy with a lot to say who doesn't know how to count.
I am looking forward to a few things this year before the snow comes again.

First I am waiting for Sawyer guy Charlie Nahganub to get back from Russia. He and a small group of Fonjalackers are there with an almost completed birch bark canoe.

They were part of Marv Defoe's canoe building crew here at the Rez Museum. They are attending a boat building show in Duluth's sister city in Russia. They will complete the canoe and show the Russians some of what we do with birch bark on this Rez. I am anxious to hear what this Fonjalacker thinks of his 19 days in Russia. I shall debrief him and report my findings in next month's Follies.

Another thing I am looking forward to is making wild rice fanning baskets. For the Northrup family this is an annual activity. We have been doing this for many years and we have taught many people how to work with the materials.

Two of my sons went to the woods to find good birch bark for me. Aaron and Joseph walked a lot and they reported they were not lost because they knew they were still in northern Minnesota. They just didn't know exactly where their car was parked. It took them hours to find it so they could bring the bark home. They also neglected to check the weather channel and they were both damp when they got home.

I have one student who wants to learn how to work with the materials we use. It is Brad Northrup, my nephew. He is learning step by step how we construct a fanning basket. We went to the woods and gathered green willow. We peeled and tied two pieces together, bent them then hung them in the sun to dry. We also peeled basswood bark for the stitching.

My godson Zac also brought us some good birch bark. He said it because we taught him how to work with birch bark. He is also gathering birch for himself so he can make his makakoon.

One more thing I am waiting for in August is the celebrity golf tournament that will be held here at the Black Bear Casino. My wife Pat and I will be hired to be greeters to the famous people coming. Two of the famous names I have heard so far are Adam Beach and Notah Begay. There will be a silent auction and a raffle which has as a prize a walk on role for a television show.

In September there is talk of a group of Fonjalackers going to Canada for the premier of the movie Older Than America. The film festival will be held in Toronto. I learned this from Georgina, the Director of the movie. She also told me Wes Studi was returning to the Rez to reshoot part of the movie. Georgina said he would be staying at the Black Bear Hotel/Casino/Golf Course. I motored down there to see if I would run into him again. Sure enough he was walking through the casino and we began talking, it was like we were finishing the last conversation we had when he was here before. Both of us are Vietnam vets so we spent a lot of time talking about the war and our experiences with it. We also talked about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the effects. I watched as people would come up to Wes and ask for autographs. He graciously signed each time. We were both surprised when someone wanted my autograph too. I hope Wes can came back here for the August golf tournament.


Long time readers of the Follies are probably wondering why I haven't mentioned the '64 Corvette Sting Ray my wife won at the Black Bear Casino. That is because I don't want to talk about it but I will.

The transmission is shot and needs to be rebuilt. The parts alone will cost niiwaak ishwaasimidana daswaabik. Jeez, it is getting expensive to be cool in that classic automobile.

Q. What did Ray Earley tell you?
A. Gaawiin wiikaa debwetaw wa'aw boogidi.
Mii iw
The views expressed in this column belong to the writer alone, they are not meant to represent this Reservation, the Fonjalackers, Wes Studi or Ray Earley. Comments, bingo packs, and Corvette parts can be sent to FdL Follies, PO Box 16, Sawyer, MN 55780 email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. web page: