Check It Out: The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

Aug 3, 2020

This is Jessi Wakefield with the Sioux City Public Library and you’re listening to Check It Out. 

Today I would like to recommend the newest novel by National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich, The Night Watchman. 

Set in 1953, The Night Watchman, taps into Erdrich’s heritage as she weaves a fictional world based off of the story of her grandfather, Thomas, a Chippewa Council Member who worked as a night watchman in a jewel bearing plant at Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota.  Erdrich goes back and forth between Thomas’ story and that of a young Chippewa woman by the name of Patrice “Pixie” Paranteau. 

Patrice’s story is one of independence and the hope to live outside her impoverished reservation. She was her school’s valedictorian, and someone who wants to earn money at the jewel plant in order reconnect with her older sister Vera who earlier moved to the big city of Minneapolis. But after a month of no word from Vera and rumors of Vera having had a child, Patrice must leave her reservation to search for her beloved sister. In Minneapolis, Patrice is swallowed up by the seedier side of the city and does things she never would at home. 

Thomas’ story was the one that I found most fascinating as it delves into the 1953 “emancipation” bill being presented to the United States Congress and the Chippewa Council’s attempts to understand the consequences of it. Each night as he is at the plant, Thomas takes out the bill and pours over the wording. He knows that “emancipation” is not the correct word. They are not being set free from anything. The bill is a “termination” bill that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their identity. 

Populated with memorable characters this story is not just about the history of the fight against emancipating Native Americans, it shines a light on “otherness,” and living life on the margins.

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Avery Brothers.