The NEH-funded Louise Erdrich Reading Program offered faculty and students at Turtle Mountain Community College the opportunity to engage more deeply with Native American culture and heritage. An award-winning and prolific author, Louise Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Her intricately-researched novels offer readers the chance to learn about the Band at the same time that they provide a foundation for literary discussions. For people who rarely see themselves represented in textbooks, Erdrich’s writing provides a unique opportunity to explore their past and present through the written word. The program helped establish the historical and cultural awareness critical to fulfilling the college’s mission to teach and preserve the Turtle Mountain Band’s history and culture.
“[The program] made us all think differently. We had the chance to sit down in an unusual situation… after having that experience we all felt more comfortable with each other. We’re more willing to share.”
The program began with a series of literature discussions between faculty members at the college, which were centered around The Round House, Love Medicine, and many of Erdrich’s stories. Faculty and staff also attended a course on the history of the Chippewa people that covered such topics as the origins of the Turtle Mountain Band, migrations, and treaties with the U.S. government. Discussions helped faculty and staff connect with one another, while the lectures helped provide critical context for many who were unaware of the tribe’s history. For Les LaFountain, a historian at the college, the conversations “made us all think differently. We had the chance to sit down in an unusual situation… after having that experience we all felt more comfortable with each other. We’re more willing to share.”
The faculty immediately began to integrate what they had learned into their teaching. One professor began to use The Round House in his abnormal psychology course as a case study for students to explore Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Another established a creative non-fiction course that encouraged students to write about their own histories. A literature professor designed a course on women and literature that made use of Erdrich’s novels and short stories. And according to Zelma Peltier, who served as the project director and teaches at the college, the program has helped the tribe’s young people have a better understanding of their history while “appreciating Louise Erdrich’s contribution to our people, community, and world.”