On the Red Lake Indian Reservation, Grandma was a bootlegger. Grandpa was a recreational gambler who literally lost his shirt and arrived home one snowy morning without it (or his coat).
Fred and Jeanette Auginash differed in age, education and upbringing, and they seemed always at poverty's edge. They cobbled a living through hard work, hunting, fishing, veterans benefits, occasional welfare, charity and resourcefulness. They made what a daughter called "a warm, good-humored and unconditionally supportive family" for their children, grandchildren and others they took in.
And they did it in the teeth of a paternalistic white authority that threatened tribal culture, land, language and sometimes livelihood across northern reservations.
Auginash granddaughter Brenda J. Child tells the story of Indian survival in deeply personal ways and with fresh insights in her latest book, "My Grandfather's Knocking Sticks: Ojibwe Family Life and Labor on the Reservation."
The tribulations on an "outpost of imperialism" are not new. But Child, a professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota, surprised even herself in her exhaustive research, especially on the historically large role of women in reservation economics.
Under government programs, for instance, her grandfather's generation became the first for men to help harvest wild rice (his lightweight cedar knocking sticks, used to tap rice into canoes, became family heirlooms after he died in 1957).
Child explores how economics of ricing, fishing, maple syrup, lumber and paid labor changed with the 1918 flu pandemic, the Great Depression, job programs and tourism development.
Outrageously, the change was not always for the better. The women's "complex and orderly system of ecological guardianship" of ricing was threatened by land loss, dam building, non-Indian competition and mining waste.
Still, the 800,000-acre Red Lake Reservation had an "amazing success story" of resource control and some sovereignty. Almost alone, it successfully resisted mandated "allotments" that broke other reservations into individual land parcels that were then lost through sales or nonpayment of bogus taxes.
Fred Auginash was dispossessed from his home near Big Sandy Lake and later lost an allotment on the White Earth Reservation. Jeanette grew up on Red Lake. They married in 1928 after he gave two horses and other gifts to her father. He was 40, she 23.
They lived in a three-room house without plumbing. They never owned a car. She had attended a boarding school and became a family advocate, not afraid to confront government or tribal authorities. He died of accidental poisoning, apparently unable to read an external-use medicine label.
As Ojibwes, Child writes, they had a "good life together" on a foundation of labor and reciprocal support from friends and relatives.
Robert Franklin is a retired Star Tribune reporter and editor.