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Wendy Reuer, Published April 19 2013

Erdrich honored with Rough Rider Award

WAHPETON, N.D. – The youngest sister to famed author Karen Louise Erdrich – or Karen, as she was known to most here – said Erdrich shared not only her virtues of charisma and intelligence with her six younger siblings, but was also a lover of licorice, a thrift store bargain hunter and a generous teacher who taught by telling stories while growing up here.

Heid Erdrich, who attended Friday night’s “Evening with Louise Erdrich” along with Erdrich’s husband, parents and many other relatives and friends, said it was a rare event for her entire family to be together. Gov. Jack Dalrymple awarded Erdrich the 39th North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award at the event Friday night.

Dalrymple unveiled the famed portrait of Erdrich as the crowd of about 100 gave the Wahpeton native a standing ovation in the halls of the North Dakota State College of Science Student Center. Erdrich joked to the crowd that she was told she could choose any age she wanted to be portrayed in artist Vern Skaug’s brushstrokes. She said she chose the younger version of herself, “like anyone would.” Alongside images of Erdrich in the portrait are her book covers mingled with images of her prairie life, all which represent her life and work.

“The person at the bottom never thought she would be standing here with all of you,” Erdrich said of the youngest version of herself depicted in the portrait.

The portrait will hang in the Capitol, not far from a portrait of Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau, who served as a tribal chairmen in the 1950s.

Erdrich is a Wahpeton native of French and German ancestry whose 14 novels and scores of poetry reflect her cultured voice as well as the life she lived growing up on North Dakota’s prairie. She graduated from Dartmouth College and received a master’s degree in fine arts from Johns Hopkins University.

Five of Erdrich’s novels are set in and around the Turtle Mountain Reservation. She is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Erdrich has been lauded by critics for her novels, which focus on Native American and German-American communities in and around the Red River Valley, “Love Medicine” and “Beet Queen.” “The Plague of Doves” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009.

Erdrich also gained notoriety in 2007 when she refused a University of North Dakota honorary doctorate out of opposition to the school’s Fighting Sioux mascot.

Erdrich now lives in Minneapolis, where she owns Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore that focuses on Native American literature and culture.

Zelma Peltier, Turtle Mountain Reservation councilwoman, said Friday night that the reservation plans to honor Erdrich with a “Louise Erdrich Day” in the near future.

Dalrymple, who was flanked by his wife and fellow leaders of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, said it was his honor to bestow the Rough Rider Award on Erdrich. Dalrymple said as a reader of her work and the governor of North Dakota, he was happy to “welcome her home.”

“As an internationally acclaimed author and a prominent literary figure, she has brought pride and honor to the community of Wahpeton, the people of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and the entire state, and has given back in so many ways to her home and to those who impacted her life,” Dalrymple said Friday.

Erdrich returned the honor to Dalrymple, saying it is customary in her Native American culture to give a gift when receiving one. Erdrich, along with her mother and sister, presented Dalrymple and his staff member Jody Link with tribal blankets.

The award presentation is part of a celebration of North Dakota authors through ReadND, a consortium celebrating literature created in North Dakota or by North Dakotans.


Readers can reach reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530