Reviewer: Sharon Brunner
Linda Legarde Grover in her book “A Song Over Miskwaa Rapids” expressed in an eloquent manner a collection of truths about the history of the Ojibwe people in Minnesota. The fictional story took place near Duluth, a place called Mozhay Point. Other places mentioned were Sweetgrass (the name of the reservation) and Half-dime Hill. The 1854 land cession treaty was signed and the Mozhay Point reservation borders established. Margie, one of the main characters, fought against mighty forces to hang onto the land of her ancestors. Native Americans have struggled to hold onto their homelands since the first Europeans came to North America. The time periods covered in the book were 2022 and 1972. Crimes committed against specific individuals resurfaced 50 years after 1972. Dale Ann, another one of the main characters, carried a heavy burden of a lost child and other significant barriers like so many other Native Americans. A young woman who only wanted to seek an education and become a teacher. Her plans went amiss over unfortunate circumstances. Legarde Grover utilized history, humanity and humor to weave a tapestry of experiences of the Ojibwe people.
The themes that became evident included the importance of homelands, the importance of family and communities, the importance of cultural practices and the acts of progression at the expense of the needs of the elders and other tribal members. The boundaries of the Ojibwe land were defined by the actions taken by the federal government through treaties. Many of the tribal people worked for the park and recreation program and the casino. The tribal government and the Wing development company wanted to expand the growth of the original park and recreation program (park) much to Margie’s chagrin. The proposed new road would go through a portion of her land settlement. The powers at be sought to build a year-round facility with inside and outside accommodations. The tribal council saw the benefit of the new road and the expansion of the existing program. The Ojibwe resided on specific land allotments provided to them through the Dawes Act of 1887 and many tribal members sought to hold onto those settlements. Joey, another main character, worked for the park. Several family and community members participated in the birth of Joey. The oldest person held him after he was born, which was a cultural tradition. Legarde Grover wove into the narrative information about Indian boarding schools and Thunder Bay Fur Trading activities of the past and how these events caused problems for present-day Native Americans.
I enjoyed the beautifully described scenery which involved a bird song. Opiichii (robin) told of their story while onlookers listened to the sound and tried to figure out what they were saying. Legarde Grover brought to life many of the Ojibwe beliefs of the ancestors such as when humans and animals and birds could talk to one another. Other cultural practices introduced included ricing and sugar camping. The collection of wild rice still occurs today. And Native Americans still gather maple sap and make maple syrup. It was also a nice touch when Legarde Grover provided information about the main characters at the beginning of the book.
Legarde Grover went into detail about life at the Tuomela household in 1972. She described the kitchen with the mismatched dishes, old stove and the smell of bologna and fried potatoes cooking on the stove. Tuomela cared a lot about Dale Ann and wanted her to possibly share a life with a young man named Eugene. Very realistic scenarios for that time period.
Some confusion existed about Paul’s involvement with Dale Ann’s baby and if her crossing her arms over her body was after she returned home from Chicago. She appeared to be sad and carried a heavy weight thought Mrs. Tuomela.
My life consisted of the realization of my Indian heritage and my participation in various cultural practices. I worked for the Johnson O’Malley Program for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in which I provided cultural, educational and recreational activities for Ojibwe children of all ages. I am a member of the aforementioned tribe. My involvement in Pow Wows as a traditional female dancer and sweat lodge ceremonies brought me much life satisfaction. When I taught college courses at a tribal college called Bay Mills Community College, many of the students struggled with problems that may have impeded them to achieve their educational goals such as poverty and unexpected pregnancies. College staff and professors helped students overcome possible barriers to getting their education. I served on a Child Welfare Committee for the Sault Tribe for 23 years which gave me the opportunity to learn about the various problems many tribal families face.
The book reminded me of the movie “Smoke Signals,” a 1998 movie about Native Americans who were members of the Coeur d’alene Tribe from the state of Washington. They faced many of the hardships that have been inflicted on many indigenous people and were hit hard with the realizations of the difficulties they encountered. Robin Wall Kimmerer described in her book “Braiding Sweetgrass” many of the cultural practices such as the many uses of cattails. They could be eaten or used for diapering babies.” “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie expressed the many trials and tribulations faced by modern-day Indian people. The truth in the book offended certain individuals so it became a banned book.
I recommend “A Song Over Miskwaa Rapids for its poignant approach to the truth about the history of Native Americans because of its minute detail about specific circumstances, its expressed perspective concerning present-day Native American life, and its efforts of weaving a tapestry of colorful and wise collection of truths. The realistic description of what some of the characters experienced such as Margie’s struggle to get her point across about the importance of maintaining her ownership of her ancestors’ land holdings to an unbending tribal council and development company. She knew the odds were against her, but she still made the effort. People, who cared about her, came to her defense. Dale Ann’s heartache about her lost child was something many young women had undergone. The characters and circumstances described in the book were believable and noteworthy. Legarde Grover unfolded a story about the Ojibwe people with the elegance of a remarkable storyteller.
Author: Linda Legarde Grover
Book: A Song Over Miskwaa Rapids