Louise Erdrich on her Native-American background

Louise Erdrich Short Cut transcript

Louise Erdrich: My mother is French and Chippewa, that's the same as Ojibwa or Anishinaabe and my father is German. As I look back, I know that quite a bit of the way we lived and how we interacted was from a Native tradition, but I didn't know it at the time. I didn't think of it that way. You grow up as a mixed blood person and you accept, of course, everything that you are. Many of the people I grew up with were Dakota people, because Wahpeton is near the Sisseton Reservation and is a division of the Dakota. I mean, you know, Dakota versus Ojibwa would be as different as Chinese and German. They're very different traditions, but the common thing that everybody had in common was a sense of humor--that was always very true--and a sense of storytelling. For me, growing up in the Red River Valley, where you really just have a flat tableland and horizon, and I grew up at the on the edge of town with my six brothers and sisters. To me, the intimacy of the detail on the ground was always so wonderful and beautiful and the changing landscape of the clouds was something that was always there for me. It was an enormous source of beauty and it was never the same, always different. So I didn't grow up wandering among trees or with streams of water around me. I grew up really looking at the sky. I've never thought of the plains as bleak. I've thought of them as sky-filled.

I didn't leave my home town Wahpeton except to go either to the Turtle Mountains, the reservation where I am enrolled, or in my home reservation or to my grandparents in Little Falls, Minnesota. I really didn't leave, not until I went to college. I went out East to Dartmouth College, and I think that sense of place was enormous for me. I took in so much of where I grew up and I go back there still. It's like drinking at a fountain in a way, and it's not like some kind of beautiful, wonderful, clear, pure fountain. It's life. It's life that I knew then and it's people that I still know, and it's a small town in North Dakota. It's what it is. So, for me that's the source of everything: that part of the world, and once I started writing about where I really come from, the characters began to find me. I didn't feel that I was inventing them, I felt that they were coming toward me, and they're wanting to be written.

Louise Erdrich discusses how her Native American background in the Dakota plains inspired her writing.