On a Sunday in the spring of 1988, a 13-year-old boy living on a reservation in North Dakota, had no answers to his father’s question, “Where is your mother?”
The answer to that is the core of Louise Erdrich’s book, “The Round House”, which received the National Book Award for Fiction in 2012. The book is at the heart of a statewide event called Wisconsin Reads The Round House.
Lee Friederich, international programs coordinator, senior lecturer in English and gender, sexuality and women’s studies and Big Read project director at UW-Barron County, was instrumental in bringing The Big Read to northwest Wisconsin. She and her students in the UW bachelor’s degree program applied for , and received, a Big Read grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.Planning for activities then began.
Events take place in both March and April across several Wisconsin communities, including Rice Lake, Hayward/Lac Courte Oreilles, Marshfield, Baraboo, Waukesha, Madison, Milwaukee and West Bend.
“More than 70 events are happening throughout the state,” Friederich said. “So it is exciting to see the Big Read expand out of the interest in reading Louise Erdrich’s novel which many people think has had an impact on the Violence Against Women Act of 2015, when it became possible for tribal courts to prosecute non-Native for domestic abuse and sexual assault committed in tribal areas.”
“The Round House” explores the fine line between justice and revenge in a Native American community and the “resilience of the [Native] culture,” as Reader’s Digest said. Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.
“The Round House” is told from the perspective of Joe Coutts, who experiences the trauma of a brutal sexual assault on his mother. Erdrich describes the impact of the rape on Joe, Geraldine’s husband, Bazil, and the small reservation community in which the family lives. The book also explores the complex legal system that prevents many rapes from being prosecuted on tribal lands.
“The statistics on sexual assault of Native American women on tribal lands is staggering, one in three women experienced rape or attempt of rape over their lifetime, exceeding twice the national average,” said Friederich.
The official kick-off begins Saturday, March 10, at the Rice Lake Public Library with a march against sexual assault and several other events.
The day begins with a film viewing and discussion of “Wind River” at 12:30 p.m.
“We want to bring further awareness to the issue of sexual assault in our communities, through the Big Read, beginning with our March to End Domestic Assault on Saturday, March 10,” Friederich said.
Following the film, sign-making begins at 3 p.m.
The procession begins at 4 p.m. The march from the Rice Lake Public Library will travel down Main Street ending with the Big Read kickoff at Badger Brew.
“We will have speakers from End Domestic Abuse Barron County and Lac Courte Oreille’s Oakwood Haven Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Shelter and Outreach,” Friederich said.
“This event will be a fundraiser for both organizations, with the sales of red scarves hand-knitted by area women,” she said.
The scarves symbolize the red shawls that Native American women wear in traditional settings to represent survivors of sexual assault.
“The event will also provide everything people need to know about how to participate in the Big Read discussions and films taking place in the community,” Friederich said.
Other events are as follows:
• Thursday, March 15—The Native American film, “The Reel Injun” will be shown at UW-Barron County from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
• Thursday, March 29—Part one discussion about “The Round House” takes place at the Rice Lake Public Library from 5:30-7 p.m.
• Thursday, April 5—A Native American Film Night at UW-Barron County features “Lessons from Indigenous Law: John Borrow” from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
• Monday, April 2 through Thursday, May 10—Contemporary Indigenous, a Native American art exhibit, is shown at the Joel Salter Gallery in the UW-Barron County Fine Arts Building. Artists featured include Louis Still Smoking and others.
• Thursday, April 12—Part two of “The Round House” book discussion at the Rice Lake Public Library from 5:30-7 p.m.
• Thursday, April 19— The Native American film, “6 Generations” will be shown at the UW-Barron County Library from 6-8 p.m.
• Thursday, April 26—Part three of “The Round House” book discussion at the Rice Lake Public Library from 6-8 p.m.
Jacklight poetry workshops led by b:william bearhart take place at the Northern Lakes Regional Academy in Rice Lake, Siren High School and LCO High School.
On Saturday, April 28, a Native American Literary Feast and Festival takes place at LCO-OCC to culminate the Big Read.
There will be readings by b:william bearhart, St. Croix Tribal descendant; Kim Blaeser, (Anishinaabe) 2015-16 Wisconsin Poet Laureate; Heid Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibway; and Oneida poet Roberta Hill from 2-4 p.m.
These will be followed by drumming from 4-4:30 p.m. and Prayer and Feast from 4:30-6 p.m.
Erdrich will present a reading from 6-7:30 p.m.
Tickets for the final event are free but those interested in attending later events should attend early readings to ensure getting a ticket.
For more information about the Big Read, go to wisconsinreads.org. There will also be information on how to obtain a free eBook copy of “The Round House” between March 5 and April 28. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Funded by the National Endowment for Arts and Minneapolis-based Arts Midwest project, along with other donors the Big Read program seeks to broaden understanding of the world and communities through the sharing of a good book.
The project has received additional funding from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, the Friends of the Marshfield Public Library, the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College Library’s Institute of Museum and Library Services Grant, the Marshfield Community Foundation, the UW Colleges and many of it departments and programs, including American Indian Studies, the UW Colleges Library, the UW-Barron County Foundation and Thursdays at the U Series, Gender, Sexuality, and Women