ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two noble themes — justice and love —embrace in “The Night Watchman,” Louise Erdrich’s uplifting new novel about the resilience of underdogs.
The dominant theme refers to a hard-fought battle for justice in the 1950s, a period known as the Indian wars. Thomas Wazhashk, a night watchman, mobilizes his hardscrabble Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa to take the fight for their North Dakota reservation to Washington, D.C. They’re going to argue against congressional plans to abrogate the band’s federal treaty with the United States. A House resolution has targeted the band, Thomas thinks, “for emancipation. E-man-ci-pa-tion. This word would not stop banging around in his head.
Emancipated. But they were not enslaved. Freed from being Indians was the idea. Emancipated from their land. Freed from the treaties Thomas’ father and grandfather had signed and that were promised to last forever.”