Folk fest celebrates U.P. cultures

by Sam Eggleston

During Daniel Truckey’s moves to various locations throughout the United States—the East Coast, Iowa, downstate Michigan—he began to notice one undeniable aspect of the cultures in the country: the culture of the Upper Peninsula is unique.
That, thought Truckey during his journeys, is something that should be celebrated.
Enter the Upper Peninsula Folklife Festival, a project Truckey started last year after taking over the reins of the Beaumier Heritage Center as curator in 2007. The mission of the festival, which is entering its second year, is to present the traditional arts and crafts of its diverse population combining performances, craft demonstrations, workshops, dancing and regional cuisine.
Last year, the event was run on the same weekend as the sixteenth annual traditional powwow sponsored by the Northern Michigan University Native American Student Association. In 2008, the Folklife Festival drew about 500 people. This year, Truckey hopes to double that number.
The festival will kick off at 7:00 p.m. March 12 with a concert at the Forest Roberts Theatre featuring John Williams and Dean MaGraw, Les Ross, Sr. and the Finnish American All-Stars, and a hand drum group. Tickets for the opening event are $6 for students, $15 for NMU faculty and staff and seniors (older than sixty) and $20 for the general public.
The following night, also at 7:00 p.m., there will be a documentary of the Ojibwe birch-bark wigwam in Room 103 of Jamrich Hall. The event is a one-hour digital video documentary produced, directed and video-recorded by Michael Loukinen, NMU sociology professor. Editing, graphics and special effects were done by Grant Guston of NMU instructional media services.
Nick Hockings, an acclaimed Ojibwe cultural educator, from Lac du Flambeau (Wisconsin), joins a group of primarily elderly Euro-Americans and shows them how to build an authentic birch-bark wigwam. The forest was the traditional Ojibwe’s hardware, building supply, pharmacy and grocery store.
Hands-on techniques learned over centuries are fused with Ojibwe cultural teachings and woven into a practical, yet spiritual ecology of the northern hardwood forest. Viewers will see the making of an offering to the forest spirits before gathering its bounty; peeling birch bark and puncturing holes with a deer-bone awl; separating the strands of basswood inner bark to make twine, and making pine-pitch roofing tar.
On March 14, the powwow event will begin with a grand entry, veterans honor song, male and female traditional dances, jingle dress and grass dance exhibitions as well as fancy bustle and fancy shawl dance exhibitions. Social dances such as the round dance and two-step also are featured.
“We set it up as a ten-day schedule, with the powwow landing right in the middle,” Truckey said. “We view it as a celebration of the many cultures that make up the Upper Peninsula.”
The Folklife Festival gets back into the swing of things with ethnic dance lessons at 7:00 p.m. on March 17 in the Superior Room of the Don H. Bottum University Center. The instructional event requires no experience and is led by the Northern Michigan University International Dancers.
At 1:00 p.m. on March 20, event-goers will get to experience the Upper Peninsula Folklore Symposium in the Mead Auditorium of NMU’s Seaborg Center.
“Rag Rug Weaving in the Upper Peninsula” begins at 1:00 p.m., followed by “Heikki Lunta: An Original Upper Michigan Finnish Folk Hero” at 1:40 p.m. “Nordic Legends in the New World: The Case of Big Erick Erickson” is slated for a 2:30 p.m. start, with “Sounding Like a Yooper: The Idea of a Regional Dialect” following at 3:10 p.m. Enjoy the history of a regional favorite food with “Where did the Cudighi Come From? An Amazing Adventure” at 4:00 p.m. before the event concludes with “Evolution of the Yooper Identity” at 4:40 p.m.
The fun continues as the festival moves on to “Kick Your Heels” funky folk dance in the Explorer Rooms of the University Center. The band Grass Monkey will kick it off with a 7:00 p.m. start, followed by Conga Se Menne at 8:30 p.m. and the Pasi Cats at 10:00 p.m.
The festival continues from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. the following day, March 21, with a Traditional art and craft presentation in the Peter White Lounge in the University Center. Artists and art featured include a chain saw carver, a Finnish rag rug weaver, a ski maker, Norwegian Krokbragd weaving, card weaving and inkle loom, barn wood furniture, quilting, basket weaving and chair caning, wood carving, finger weaving and spoon carving.
There will be storytelling and music performances in the Pioneer Rooms of the University Center. At 11:00 a.m. there will be storytelling with James Couling, followed by French-Canadian songs by Maple Sugar Folk at noon.
Tanya Stanaway will sing some Finnish songs starting at 1:30 p.m., with Dave Berry, a U.P. songwriter, starting at 3:00 p.m. Randy Seppala will conclude the performances at 4:00 p.m. with a bones workshop.
The conclusion of the festival will be from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on March 22 at the University Center. The traditional art and craft presentations will continue from the day before, along with ethnic folk dance in the Great Lakes Rooms beginning at noon with Bette Premo and the Front Parlor Dance Band.
The Marquette Folk Dancers will follow at 1:00 p.m. with Wil Kilpela and Friends at 1:30 p.m. At 2:30 p.m., the Marquette Folk Dancers once again will take the stage, and the Thimbleberry Band will conclude festivities at 3:00 p.m.
“This festival is to show people the amazing things about the cultures that have made the Upper Peninsula what it is,” Truckey said. “This is about more than being a ‘Yooper.’ It’s about the Finnish and the French-Canadians and the Croatians and the Cornish who made the U.P. such an amazing place.”
It’s key, said Truckey, for people to hold onto that regional identity.
“Some of these things, like the art and the folk music and dances, are being threatened by being lost,” he said. “These are important aspects of this culture. We need to remember them and celebrate them. That’s the whole idea behind the Folklife Festival.”
All events, with the exception of the opening night concert, are free for the public to attend. For details, visit

— Sam Eggleston
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