The “night watchman” of this story (and there are two or three parallel narratives going on here) is a Chippewa council member named Thomas Wazhashk who Louise Erdrich based on her grandfather, Patrick Gourneau. The year is 1953, and the American government has started drafting a series of dispossession, or “termination,” acts against Native American communities across the U.S.

Check out the Wiki on “Indian Termination Policy” from the 1940s to 1960s. There’s even an entry on the House Concurrent Resolution 108 of 1953 pertaining to the Turtle Mountain Chippewa who are central to Erdrich’s novel.

This is just the resolution, not the act, as I understand it, so the word “termination” isn’t in this particular document, but like Erdrich says on p. 90, “In the newspapers, the author of the proposal had constructed a cloud of lofty words around this bill—emancipation, freedom, equality, success—that disguised its truth: termination. Termination. Missing only the prefix. The ex.” It’s right there in the resolution! “That it is declared to be the sense of Congress that, at the earliest possible time, all of the Indian tribes and the individual members thereof . . . shall be freed from Federal supervision and control . . .”

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