Kent Nerburn, author of the award-winning novel, Neither Wolf Nor Dog, is coming to Grand Rapids to lead discussions during four screenings of the movie inspired by his book.
Indian Country Today says about the movie, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is the story of a well-meaning white writer (Nerburn himself, played by Christopher Sweeney) who is drawn into Native culture when a Lakota elder asks him to turn a box full of notes into a book. The elder — a man named Dan is played by 95-year-old David Bald Eagle — uses the opportunity to poke holes in Nerburn’s — and the audience’s — assumptions about Native people. David Bald Eagle walked on his journey to the spirit world… at age 97, but was able to view the film and said, “It’s the only film I’ve been in about my people that told the truth.”
All screenings of “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” will be in Chucker Auditorium in Davies Hall on the Itasca Community College campus. Admission is free with donations appreciated to go toward building a playground in Ball Club, envisioned by youth in the community. Screenings will include an opening blessing ceremony, the full feature film, and a discussion with local Indigenous leaders hosted by Nerburn. Copies of Nerburn’s books will be available for purchase including the follow-up book to “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” “The Wolf at Twilight,” which won the Minnesota Book Award in 2010, and “The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo,” which completed the trilogy in 2013.
On Tuesday, Feb. 19, 6 p.m. at the Grand Rapids Area Public Library, Nerburn will give a talk, “Hidden Joys of a Life in the Arts,” which focuses on his most recent book, “Dancing With the Gods: Reflections on Life and Art,” and how “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” was adapted for the big screen.
All events made possible by a partnership between the Circle of Healing, Itasca Community College and the Minnesota Department of Corrections with support from the Blandin Foundation.
“Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” is an epic road trip that weaves documentary into a dramatically told story. Set in the vast high plains of the western Dakotas, it tells the story of traveling the back roads through contemporary reservations and sites with historical significance, as the elder, Dan, relates the stories and philosophies that he wants Nerburn to write in a book for him.
In both the book and the film, Nerburn’s philosophy rings true. He says he is always aware of being, “the white man in the room,” and is aware that he does not have the answers to past tragedies. He does want his work to help build a bridge between the two cultures, “a bridge to the common humanity that lies beneath our many differences.”
The American Indian College Fund agrees that he has with “Neither Wolf Nor Dog,” issuing the following statement: “This is one of those rare works that once you’ve read it, you can never look at the world, or at people the same way again. It is quiet and forceful and powerful.”
Nerburn has published 16 books of creative non-fiction that have focused on Native American and American culture as well as general spirituality. It was an earlier work, “To Walk the Red Road: Memories of the Red Lake Ojibwe,” that fascinated Dan and inspired the journey recounted in “Neither Wolf Nor Dog.” “To Walk the Red Road,” a collection of photographs and memories of the Red Lake Ojibwe people was produced by Red Lake High School students with Nerburn’s editorial direction.
The highly acclaimed film was produced and directed by Scottish filmmaker Steven Lewis Simpson who also shares a screenwriting credit. The cast is likewise international. Chief Dave Bald Eagle, at age 95, plays Dan. Chief Dave Bald Eagle was Lakota with many movie credits as both an actor and a stuntman, including Dances with Wolves. The final impassioned speech given by Dan in the film was ad-libbed by Chief Dave telling his own, parallel, story. Christopher Sweeney of Yakima, Wash., plays Nerburn. Richard Ray Whitman of the Muscogee Creek Nation plays Grover. Also starring is Tatanka Means, a professional actor and comedian of Lakota, Omaha, and Dine (Navajo) descent. Roseanne Supernault, a Canadian actress of Metis and Cree descent, plays twin sisters, Danielle and Wenonah. She starred as the title character in Maina, an acclaimed CBC production. Additionally, many recognizable Native American actors are also in the cast.