The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Winona La Duke, Last Standing Woman (1997)

Do you know what has happened to the American Indian Movement since this book was written? To the White Earth Recovery Project?

Is this book a novel? How would you describe its narrative structure and design?

What is added by the use of Objibwe words? Are these distracting? Educational? Consistent with the message La Duke wishes to convey?

“The Storyteller”: What do we learn about the narrator of this story? What kind of protagonist do we expect from her story?

From which two ancestors does she trace her people’s history? From whom does the name Ishkwegaabawiikwe derive?

What does the narrator see as her chief trait in childhood? To what does she attribute this? (inheritance from mother’s clan)

The Refuge,“White Earth”: What do we learn about the original state of the “white earth”? What features gave it its name?

What law determined how the people lived? By contrast, how does she characterize the white people’s laws?

“The Border”: What do we learn about Ishkwegaabawiikwe’s past, especially her marriage? What does she see when she spies on the Dakota border?

What do we learn has happened in Indian and Minnesota politics shortly before 1862? What response to the Dakota uprising do the Anishinaabeg leaders take? (Shingobay declines to fight a hopeless battle, 32)

What are some concrete results of the war? What has happened to the Dakota woman whom Ishkwegaabawiikwe had seen on her earlier visit, and how do she and her brother respond?

“The Captives”: Why do you think the author chose to make this particular alliance between women one of motifs of her book? (women of different tribes share a common fate and unity)

What do we learn about the courts which tried the Indians? (kangaroo courts, 34) What do we learn about the hangings? About the crowd which observed them?

What aspects of the scene does the storyteller add which make the deaths more poignant? How do the Indians die? (their spirits rising into the sky, 38)

What is the significance of the cutting of Situpiwin’s braids?

When and under what circumstances are the drum ceremonies devised? Who first dreams of the drum, and who are her helpers? (her brother, her future husband, and Chi Makwa)

What living arrangement is chosen by Namaybin, Ishkwegaabawiikwe and Situpiwin? What animal is killed during their courtship? What symbolic oddity does the dead animal manifest?

Who is ominously assassinated, by whom, and why? (Bugonaygeeshig, 42)

“Wimitigoozhi”: How is the priest presented? How had they responded to earlier priests? (killed them, 44) What unintended consequences were brought by white visitors? (illnesses, 44)

“Falling Off the Cross”: How much time has elapsed since the last chapter? What do we learn about the missionaries to this region? (Anglican and Catholic)

To what degree, in the author’s view, has Father Gilfillian been successful in converting the Indians? Why have they resisted?

Which Indian is helpful to Father Gilfillian, and what is her motive? Why does she tell him about the drum ceremonies, and what is his response?

What are some beliefs associated with the drums? (visions of spirits, drums were relatives of other drums, 51)

What has happened to Ishkwegaabawiikwe’s brother Wazhaashkoons in the meantime? (has become a chief) What cultural differences make the exchange between the priest and Wazhaashkoons so unpleasant? (different views on whether one should look into another’s eyes, 52)

Why does the Indian Agent agree to outlaw the Indian rituals? (53) How does Gilfillian alter the history of the beginning of the drum ceremonies? (54) How will the prohibition of drum religion practices be enforced? (55) What metaphor ends the chapter?

“The Descent”: What gives this chapter its title? What institution is used to repress the activities of medicine men? What industry is promoted by the government and settlers? (57)

What practices by the trading posts begin to cause hardship? (57) What events break up the ceremony conducted by Chi Makwa?

Who are seized by the police, and with whose help? (native agents, 59) What altercation does Chi Makwa have with the natives who have aided in the arrest?

“Primas, “Africans, and Monkeys”:Is the anthropologist a neutral scientist? What purposes do his investigations serve in the acquisition of Indian land?

How are the assessments of “native blood” presented, and what response do the Indians have to such tests? Why do they consider the investigator is “crazy”? (65)

Does the narrator seem to have much faith in physical anthropology as then practiced? What treatment of the human remains seems to be an especial cause of offense?

“Windigoo”: What manner of life is lived by Namaybin and his family? What act of aggression is taken to deprive him of his land? How do he and other Indians respond to this threat? (steal logging equipment and jam river)

“Agwajiing: The Sanitarium”: What happens in this chapter? What sicknesses have brought the girls to the sanitarium, and what has killed their mother?

What stories does Charlotte tell to soothe her sister? How does she respond to the latter’s death? Whose help does she seek to manage a proper burial ceremony?

“Ondend, To Go Away”: What happens to Boodoo Graves in the Catholic residential school?  Under what conditions do the boys live, and which aspects of their culture are stripped from them? What effect does sexual abuse have on Boodoo?

“Mesabe”: What is Mesabe’s background? What does he learn from his grandmother Mindemoyen and from his grandfather? With which aspects of the white culture is he familiar?

“Knights of the Forest”: Who are these “knights” and what were their activities? Under what conditions were the Indians living in 1916? Their neighbors? What happened to Mesabe’s parents? (killed in fire presumably set by “knights”)

What had happened to Ishweniibawiikwe? To her children? To Situpiwin? (87) What job does Mesabe take?

What happens when Mesabe attempts to repay the $50 debt incurred by his grandmother? Under what circumstances does she die?

“Ogichidaa”: Under what circumstances do Mesabe and his brother join the army? What happens to them during the war? (Naytahwaush retreats to forest on his return, hospitalized, 92) Under what circumstances does Naytahwaush die?

“The Resurrection”: What is referred to by this title? What actions does the priest perform, and how do the natives who observe them feel about the moving of their peoples’ gravestones? Which native persons prominent in the narrative are moved?

What motives are ascribed to him?

“Gaajigewin, To Hide Away”: What happens to the drums? Why does Mesabe hide that which Ishkwegaabawiike had made in the Episcopal church?

“The Reawakening, The Passing”:

How much time has elapsed since the story’s earlier events? To which earlier characters is Jim Nordstrom related? (Philomene St. Clair was his grandmother, 107)

What do we learn about Jim Nordstrom’s life and that of his daughter Alanis? Why had his marriage with Maura Coningham ended? How does he earn his living?

What critique is made of the movie industry of the time? (109) Of his choices, and aspects of the life of the “token” Indian?

What political cause does he support in the 1970s?

Which features of this tale suggest elements of Winona LaDuke’s own life?

What is significant about the fact that his daughter and others kidnap his body for burial in his homeland?

“Ezhe’osed, He Who Walks Backwards”: What is George Ahnib’s mental and emotional state? What had caused this? (116)

What had been the fate of the Round Lake Uprising and the people of Pine Point? (117)

What had caused George and his mother to move into government built housing? (116-117) What had happened to Janine Littlewolf’s other children, and what kind of life does she lead? (117)

What had killed George’s father? (119) What Indian movie star does George watch on t. v.?

What killed George’s mother, and what does LaDuke tell us are the statistics on native death from cirrhosis of the liver? (death sixty times more likely than for a white woman, 118) Where was she buried?

What form of vision comforts George? (118) What enables him to survive?

“The Thaw”: How many years have elapsed since the preceding chapter?

To what does the title refer? What claims does Mesabe attempt to pursue, and with what result? (land claims of his family, for 8 plots, 121) What response does he receive from the Indian Agency spokesperson?

Meanwhile, what has happened to his own family? (wife and two children have died, 122)  Under what circumstances had his daughter Geraldine died? (122)

What happened to Geraldine’s daughter Elaine? (moved to Minneapolis, 123) What proportion of the reservation’s inhabitants had moved to the city? (three quarters by the 1970s, 123)

What political events had influenced her aunt and uncle? (123) What happens before she returns to White Earth to live with her grandfather Mesabe? (has two children, gets biology degree, 123)

What dreams does Mesabe share with his granddaughter? (spirits seems to suggest something new is about to happen, 124, change in lands will be both bad and good, 125)

“Indian Hating”: What agricultural conditions and historical events caused ill will between the immigrant white populations and the natives near White Earth?

What difficulties were the farmers experiencing? (127) What had been their relationship with individual Indians?

What do we learn about the non-Indian high school boys’ reactions to Lucy St. Clair? How does shed defend herself from them? Was Bob Grist ashamed of what had happened to him?

What had happened to Bob’s parents during the farm recession? What was his own employment and financial situation?

How do Bob and his fellow whites respond to the news that there will be an investigation of their property titles?

Who had brought suit to investigate past titles? (a descendant of Bugonaygeeshig, George Agawaateshkan, 133) What illegalities are uncovered? (land taken from full-blooded Indians, which was illegal, or taken for taxes, also illegal, 134)

How does Bob Grist’s banker respond to the news? (won’t give loan, 135) What debates take place when a neighborhood meeting is called to discuss the situation?

Who defends the Indian side, and on what grounds? (John Makela, 137)

How do some of the farmers make extra money? (permitting excavations of Indian remains on their land, 138) What practice has the university been involved in? Whose graves are being despoiled?

What is Bob Grist’s reaction to the digging up of Indian graves? (139) What kind of public opinion is he supposed to represent?

“The Old Ones”: Who are the “old ones,” and what has happened to their graves? Who witnesses these predations? (Moose Hanford, 140) Who were his ancestors (his great-grandparents Naymaybin Minnogeeshig and Ishkwegaabawiikwe) and what has been his past? How does he know who is responsible for removing the bodies, and how does he respond to these thefts?

“The Rez War”:

To what does the title refer? What has induced the tribal leaders to lease almost half their land for a paper mill, and who disagrees with their plan?

Who is responsible for setting fire to the chief’s pickup truck? What do we learn about Lucy St. Claire’s past? (spent time stealing from white men, 146)

How does the tribal leader respond to the request for a meeting? What happened at the regular tribal meeting? (officers refuse to listen, Lucy makes scene, 148)

How does “Protect Our Land” attempt to pursue their cause, and with what result? (government refuses to help, 149) At what point does she intervene?

Who sets the second fire?  How is he treated by the police, and for what reason?

Manidoo Dewe’igan, The Big Drum: What information and lore about the Big Drum does Elaine learn from her grandfather? Who has preserved it carefully, and what seems significant about its recovery? How is it described?

The Occupation, The Beauty of Junked Cars: What irony is contained in the title, and to what does it refer? Who seem most active in setting up the “occupation”? (Vietnam veterans such as Moose Hanford)

How do the occupiers deal with the issue of establishing legitimacy? (set up alternate government)

What aspects of the situation cause suspense?

Denver—Ningaabii’anong (the West): What is gained by the fact that Alanis is able to report on the occupation? What role does she serve in the narrative?

What aspects of her background seem to parallel those of her author? How does she gain some of the information she needs before visiting the compound?

What is meant by “lateral oppression,” and why is it important that some of the natives acknowledge this problem? (165)

What issues confront Alanis and other Indians when checking into a motel? (166-67)

Giiwedahn, Coming Home:
What ironies and contrasts occur when Alanis visits the FBI compound? How is the occupation reported on the radio?  (tribal chief Lance Wagosh interviewed)

What is significant about Alanis’s farewell? (speaks in Objibwe) Of the agent’s response to her?

The AK-47:
What are features of Alanis’s entrance into the compound? Whom does she meet, and what does she learn in her interview with Elaine?

What is the AK-47 of the title, and what is its significance in the narrative? Who is Warren Wabun and why has he joined the protesters?

What do we learn about the protesters’ demands? About the past of the American Indian Movement?

Veterans of Domestic Wars: What is the significance of the title? What were these “domestic wars”?

What emotions does Alanis experience as she joins her fellow White Earth Indians? What does she recognize distinguishes her from them? (has a choice, 183)

What effect does the shooting have on her? On the situation of the occupiers?

The White Man’s War: Why do the participants decide to evacuate the elders? What consequences do they fear?

What plans are made by the officers and police? What public relations material do they construct, and how is this a distortion of reality?

Facing the Enemy: How is morale in the compound? What difficulties do Warren and the driver experience as they attempt to leave? 

The Evacuation: What effect is created by the dishonest video? Who aids in the evacuation, and what occurs as the parade of cars attempts to leave? (evacuees attacked by protesters) 

How does Alanis learn about the death of Elaine’s mother? (201)

Are there touches of humor? (197)

Dibikaag, Night:
Who is Kway Dole and what guerilla warfare act does he commit under cover of night? How is the reader expected to react?

The Gill Net:
What symbolism is present in the mode of capture of the FBI agents? What is the tone of the episode? (irony, humor)

Had the agents been successful in tear-gassing the compound, what would have been the result?

How are the captives treated? What prompts the chief agent to wish negotiations?

Traveling Shoes:

To what does the title refer?

Under what circumstances is Hawk shot?

What romance occurs during the occupation?

What part do Alanis’s dispatches play in the outcome?

Under what circumstances are the negotiations held, and what do the natives obtain from these?

Niimiixiwin, Powwow:

How do the White Earth Indians respond to the annual powwow? What familiar character is among the dancers? (Moose)

Oshki Anishinaabeg, Leeching Capital of the World: What is the meaning of the section title?

What are leeches used for? Which of the characters is especially fond of leech-gathering?

What conversation do the two men have, and what advice does Moose give to Willie? (229) In your view, is it good advice?

Ogichidaakweg, The Women’s Warrior Society:

What has made the “women’s warrior society” necessary? What social problem does this chapter identify?

How do the women prepare for their venture? What form does their intervention take, and is it successful?

What effect does this incident have on the life of Fred Graves’ daughter?

The Long Winter:
What has been George Ahnib’s problem? What form of healing ceremonies are practiced on him?

What is their effect?

The Oldest White Man in the World: Who is the “oldest white man,” and under what circumstances does he die?

What do we learn of the fate of Boodoo Graves? (had shot himself, 241) What is Frances Graves’ reaction to the funeral of her own father? To the death of Father Thomas?

For the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes:

To what does the title refer? What is Claire St. Clair’s religious affiliation and favorite pastime?

What vision alters her attitude toward native culture? What unexpected event enables her to help her tribe?

Giiwosebig, The Hunting Party:
Who are “the hunting party” and what do they hunt?

What is their justification for stealing and gutting a cow? What emotions are shared by the participants?

The Last Dance of Deputy Bennert:
What have been the unavenged crimes of Deputy Kevin Bennert? What do the natives do to punish him, and what is his ultimate fate? (killed by Kway, 258)

Why do you think this chapter was included in the book? What view of justice does it reflect?

The Rummage Queen:
Who is “the rummage Queen”? What seems important about the natives’ recycling efforts?

What seems revealed by the incident in which they seek for the missing mink coat? About the final discovery? (actually beaver, 265)

The Indian Inaugural Ball:
What inaugural ball is referred to, and why is it considered important? (266) Who are some of the dancers? Are some of the president’s promises kept?

Giiwedahn, Coming Home: Who drives home the “ancestors,” and under what conditions? What are some humorous elements of his description?

What are we to make of the singing of the ancestors? What is revealed by the events which occur when Moose pauses to repair his car? (considerable public interest in case) What surprises him most?

What do we learn about the conditions under which native remains have been kept for the past decades? What preparations are necessary before they can be buried?

Naas’aab Maa Jiitwe Win, The Reburial: Where are the ancestors buried? What are features of the burial service? Does the relocation provide closure, and if so, to whom?

The Third Miracle: What event enables Claire to help her reservation acquire land? What changes occur as a result?

What is the “miracle” that persuades the campowners to leave White Earth territory?

Ishkwegaabawiikwe, Last Standing Woman:
What had been Lucy St. Clair’s experience of childbearing? Her occupation? How does she participate in the courtship of Willie and Alanis?

Who is Ishkwegaabawiikwe, and how does she receive her name?

Epilogue, Dibaajimokwe, The Storyteller: What seems the special characteristic of the narrator, and how did she acquire this trait? Who dies as she enters the world, and what symbolism is associated with this transition?

Is this a hopeful ending? If this book were a play, would you describe it as a tragedy or comedy?

Journal of Ishkwegaabawiikwe: How does Ishkwegaabawiikwe’s final journal differ from the one in the prologue, and what is significant about the differences? (extensive passage in Objibwe, statements about cycles, need to acknowledge our relationship to ancestors and helpers)

What do you make of the fact that the writer dates her tale as 2018?

What are some of the narrative’s underlying and recurrent themes? (cycles of return, family history)

Have there been unexpected tragic or comic endings? How does the fact that there have been some improvements in the lives of the White Earth natives affect the novel’s underlying messages?

What role has language played in embodying the narrative’s themes and assumptions?

What seems the relationship of this work to fiction/history? Do you think this blend strengthens the narrative?



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