Author and historian Brenda J. Child has won the Jon Gjerde Prize by the Midwestern History Association for her 2014 book, My Grandfather’s Knocking Sticks: Ojibwe Family Life and Labor on the Reservation (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014).
“My Grandfather’s Knocking Sticks is an eloquent study of family life which locates personal experience in the larger experience of the Ojibwe people and the Midwest as a whole,” said selection committee chairman Professor Andrew Cayton in a statement from the association, which was created a year ago.
Through the lens of her family, Child tells the story of Ojibwe life during the first half of the 20th century from her vantage point growing up on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. It also broadens to cover the Great Lakes region as a whole.
“At the intersection of family history and careful scholarly research is this remarkable story of Ojibwe strength, creativity, and survival, and it is a story that Professor Child tells so well,” said Minnesota Historical Society Press director Pam McClanahan in the statement.
The prize is named after the late Jon Gjerde, “who wrote extensively about the Midwest and its immigrant peoples,” the Midwestern History Association said.
While the Ojibwe were far from being immigrants, their role in Minnesota’s history is undisputed. Colonialism stripped them of land and forced them to adapt their traditions in ways that rendered timeworn practices virtually unrecognizable. Yet her grandparents held the family together with equal parts determination and love.
“It is impossible to overemphasize the personal toll of dispossession and reservation poverty on American Indian lives,” Child, a professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota, writes in the introduction. “After working as a historian for my adult life, I have come to recognize that my family, like all indigenous people who lived under the outpost of imperialism, has a seriously appalling story to tell about the most objectionable aspects of the colonial history of the United States. Dispossession, poverty, cultural destructions, paternalism and racism are the framework of political narratives within American history, but they were experienced by Indian people in deeply human ways that always involved a loss of freedom.”
Much of the narrative deals with gender roles in the economy as well, a topic that Child has written about before.