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Book Review: Walking the Old Road

Dec 13, 2019 07:32AM ● By Editor

By Brian Larsen from The Cook County News Herald - December 13, 2019


Walking the Old Road is a beautiful book. From the first paragraph to the last paragraph, it is a compelling, excellent read, its pages filled with poignant pictures, its text loaded with interesting facts and information that author Staci Lola Drouillard said, “took 30 years to learn.”

Chippewa City, or what is left of it, is situated one mile east of Grand Marais. At the turn of the 19th century, Chippewa City held about 200 Ojibwe families. Today, all that remains is the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church and the Chippewa City Cemetery.

A Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Anishinaabe tribal descendant, Staci began taping interviews of former Chippewa City residents in 1987.

We learn on pages 185- 186 that Chippewa City and the city of Grand Marais each had soccer teams that competed against each other. However, from the names listed on the Grand Marais team, it’s evident that many of those players were also of Anishinaabe descent.

On page 269, Drouillard recounts a story told to her by her father, Francis Drouillard. “One day, Uncle Charlie was walking home to the Chippewa City from Grand Marais, where he had undoubtedly enjoyed the social hour at one of the local taverns. He walked the path that he had walked for years, the Old Road that connected Grand Marais and Chippewa City and all points east and west. Uncle Charlie walked on, seemingly oblivious to the fast-moving cars and errant honking that followed him along his trail. The local authorities that asked him why, in heaven’s name, was he walking down the middle of the highway stopped him.

“’I am Charlie Drouillard,’” he replied “’and you built the road on my trail!’” 

While Staci recounts the stories of daily life at Chippewa City, she also explores the prejudice many of the Anishinaabe faced, why they were living in Chippewa City, how they lost their land and homes, and why in 1904 the Old Road became impassable.

Over many years Staci interviewed Gladys Beckwith, Barney Drouillard, Robert Drouillard, Mary Jane Hendrickson, Dorothy Johansen, her aunt Gloria Martineau, George Morrison, Michael Morrison, Alice and Milton Powell, Vivian Waltz, and Jim and Lorraine Wipson, as well as many of the descendants of Chippewa City.

About prejudice, Staci writes, “The kind of words that we use to build our collective American history are often made of cruel material; ruthless and uncaring shards are often used to systematically dis- count and destroy Native people. As long as we continue to use words that separate us from each other to define who we are as a community and as a country, our paths will continue to diverge instead of intersecting. And as we accumulate and embellish our own stories, we must take great care to acknowledge the voices of those who have become, in a sense, the victims of a specific time and place.” 

On page 162, we learn about “Indian maidens and plastic tomahawks.” Early on, Staci divulges the Ojibwe name for Mount Josephine. There are many names of people that would be forgotten if not for this book. Who were Shingibbiss and Misses Shingibbiss? And where are they buried?

What effect did the Timber and Stone Act have on the people of Chippewa City? Who was Weetch? And how did Staci get her hands on a picture of John Beargrease hunting with a rifle?

Staci writes with grace and poetry. In a little more than 300 pages, she recounts much, informing the reader of much, sowing words like seeds that grow and blossom as each page unfolds.

This tome is filled with wonderful details, a lot of love and happiness, some accounts of disparity, some painful grief. It is a family story. A story of a people and culture that is rapidly changing and disappearing. A story filled with words like small droplets of water that form a small stream, the chapters merge and form a river. In the end, you are sailing through pages that rise up like waves on a large lake, on the edge of a shore not yet reached.

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