My Grandfather\'s Knocking SticksMy Grandfather’s Knocking Sticks
Ojibwe Family Life and Labor on the Reservation

Brenda J. Child

In the Media:

MPR’s The Daily Circuit
Native America Calling
Star Tribune
KUMD’s Northland Morning

Winner of the Labriola Center American Indian National Book Award.

Explores the innovative ways Ojibwe men and women on reservations around the Great Lakes sustained both their families and their cultural identity in the face of extreme prejudice and hardship.

When Ojibwe historian Brenda Child uncovered the Bureau of Indian Affairs file on her grandparents, it was an eye-opening experience. The correspondence, full of incendiary comments on their morals and character, demonstrated the breathtakingly intrusive power of federal agents in the early twentieth century.

While telling her own family’s stories from the Red Lake Reservation, as well as stories of Ojibwe people around the Great Lakes, Child examines the disruptions and the continuities in daily work, family life, and culture faced by Ojibwe people of Child’s grandparents’ generation—a generation raised with traditional lifeways in that remote area. The challenges were great: there were few opportunities for work. Government employees and programs controlled reservation economies and opposed traditional practices. Nevertheless, Ojibwe men and women—fully modern workers who carried with them rich traditions of culture and work—patched together sources of income and took on new roles as labor demands changed through World War I and the Depression.

Child writes of men knocking rice at wild rice camps, work customarily done by women; a woman who turns to fishing and bootlegging when her husband is unable to work; and women who carry out traditional healing ceremonies. All of them, faced with dispossession and pressure to adopt new ways, managed to retain and pass on their Ojibwe identity and culture to their children.

Advance Praise:

My Grandfather’s Knocking Sticks is an original and perceptive history of labor and economic survival on the Red Lake Reservation. Brenda Child considers hard work and communal enterprises, men and women in fisheries, rice harvests, and jingle dance healers in generous, heartfelt, and documented stories.”
Gerald Vizenor, author of the historical novel Blue Ravens

“Professor Child lovingly shows the spirit, creativity, and work that went into earning a living and into reproducing family and community even as she captures the costs of dispossession.”
David R. Roediger, author of Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White

“This engaging, and moving, family memoir traces Red Lake history through wonderfully told stories. It reminds us of the essential power of family, labor, and personal narrative, and the way memoir can decolonize scholarship.”
Brian Hosmer, author of American Indians in the Marketplace: Persistence and Innovation Among the Menominees and Metlakatlans, 1870–1920

Brenda J. Child is professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota and author of Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940 and Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community.

$19.95 paper, available December 2014
224 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2, 30 b&w photos, notes, index, 978-0-87351-924-3

$14.99 e-book, 978-0-87351-938-0

Available December 2014 from Minnesota Historical Society Press

Pre-order on amazon,, Powell’s