The round house (the novel’s namesake) is a structure on the reservation that is used for Chippewa religious ceremonies and celebrations. According to Mooshum, Nanapush built the round house to resemble the body of a buffalo, which were once central to Chippewa culture. The round house is an important site for the Chippewa people on the reservation, as it continues to be used for religious practice. At the same time, for Joe, it is also the site of the extreme violence against his mother. When Joe thinks about the round house, he feels that it represents “a part of something larger… just a shadow of that way of life.” This suggests that, while the round house represents the richness of Chippewa culture, part of that culture has become a kind of absence: the void of culture that has been violently stamped out. The round house, therefore, is both a monument to modern Chippewa culture and a memorial to the parts of Chippewa culture that have been violently destroyed.
The Round House Quotes in The Round House
During the old days when Indians could not practice their religion— well … pre-1978—the round house had been used for ceremonies. People pretended it was a social dance hall or brought their Bibles for gatherings… By the time the priest or the BIA superintendent arrived, the water drums and eagle feathers … and sacred pipes were in a couple of motorboats halfway across the lake… There was one old Catholic priest who used to sit down with the medicine people… The old priest had learned the songs. No priest knew those songs now.
I lay awake thinking of the place on the hill, the holy wind in the grass, and how the structure had cried out to me. I could see a part of something larger, an idea, a truth, but just a fragment. I could not see the whole, but just a shadow of that way of life.