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Northern Field Report

By Caroline Weber Kennedy

pow wow
Cecil Pavlat, cultural repatriation specialist for the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, with his grandchildren at an annual Pow Wow

Aanii and Welcome: Growing Multiculturalism in Your Community

A drum beats steadily while a male voice is humbly raised in acknowledgment of man’s relationship with earth and all living creatures. The words acknowledge how the past influences today and how today will influence tomorrow. To characterize this as a prayer ceremony does not adequately define this Native American tradition. It is a request for a blessing upon an event and the people gathered there. What is surprising and delightful is that I have not sought out this experience—it was graciously gifted to the Michigan Port Collaborative meeting attendees in Sault Ste. Marie. It has provided me with a new view of the city as a multicultural community. Multiculturalism is one of the eight key assets of a successful 21st century community.

Start with Heritage, Build Relationships
I contacted Cecil Pavlat, who gave the blessing, to find out how the Sault Tribe culture has become such an integral part of Sault Ste. Marie and the surrounding area. Pavlat is the cultural repatriation specialist of a five-county area and has worked in the position for 12 years. (Repatriation, by the way, means to return something cultural to its origins.) Pavlat tells me building relationships is how cultural amalgamation occurs. I say amalgamation because the goal is not be assimilated and absorbed within one culture, but for two or more distinct cultures to create a richer, more unique whole. It helps that Linda Hoath, director of the Sault Convention and Visitors Bureau also used to work for the tribe, and so a strong bond has developed within the community. The city regularly invites the tribe to participate in city events, as does the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

spirit houses
Burial Grounds in the Sault. The spirit houses represent each cardinal direction and also Father, Mother, Daughter, Son, for all the unknown who are buried there.

I ask Pavlat why we don’t see more multi-culturalism in our state. From his perspective, Native Americans are unlikely to insert themselves into a community, but rather must be invited. It is up to the city or village to pursue a relationship with tribal leaders. And while racial undertones are not as obvious as they once were, it is vitally important to maintain personal interaction. It is the responsibility of leaders in both cultures to educate. The ceremonies, explains Pavlat, are one way the Native American culture gains recognition. He suggests beginning with the history and heritage within your community. American history, he gently points out, did not begin in 1492. Anishinaabe History goes back thousands of years, not hundreds. Sault Ste. Marie holds the distinction of being the first incorporated city in Michigan. But before the Soo was known for its locks, and before Europeans developed a trade route here, the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians referred to this place as Baawating, Place of the Rapids, and the gathering place of the Great Lakes Basin for all tribes.

Small Steps, Big Impact
Celebrating and growing multi-culturalism in your community is important to attracting the talented workforce we are seeking in Michigan. Young adults enjoy and seek wide varieties of food, music, art, and customs. And maybe more importantly, having a welcoming image also attracts the educated immigrant workforce that so many of our communities need. So, multi-culturalism isn’t just for big cities anymore and it’s far more than a feel-good thing to do. It can have significant economic impact.

Native Americans are unlikely to insert themselves into a community, but rather must be invited. The city or village must be accepting and it is up to them to pursue a relationship with tribal leaders.

Reach Out and Learn
In conclusion, city or village leadership should reach out first. Invite various ethnic groups to participate in planned events and celebrations in your community. But be thoughtful. As Cecil diplomatically advises me, the 4th of July—“our” nation’s Independence Day—is not much of a celebratory occasion for the Indian nation. And on New Year’s Eve, the Sault Tribe holds a Powwow as an alternative option, as alcohol has not been a good thing for his people. I admit I may not have thought that far ahead before extending an invitation. But Cecil also counsels, “Do not be afraid to ask. Ignorance should not hold the negative connotation it has today. It is an opportunity to learn.” For example, on Beaver Island is an ancient medicine wheel and several satellites aligned to the stars and where the sun rises. Celebratory times for Native Americans include the summer solstice and the equinox. Find out celebratory times for the subcultures within your community and honor them.

Whichever cultural groups you identify in your community, we encourage you to take leadership in this area. Talk about small steps, big impact! This is one everyone can do at virtually no cost. My two young sons are from India. Namaskar! This means “my spirit welcomes and respects the spirit within you.” What a great place to start. And Gchi-Miigwech—Ojibwe for Great Thanks—in any language, are sure to follow.

Caroline Weber Kennedy is manager of field operations for the League. You may reach her at 906-428-0100 or ckennedy@mml.org.

 

 

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