Fond du Lac Follies


Wiidookawishin ji wiidookawigwaa niij anishinaabeg. That means "help me help my Anishinaabe people." It is part of my morning prayer when I make an offering of tobacco. I got my chance to use that prayer repeatedly when we began planning the 4th Annual Ambe Ojibwemodaa language camp.

The camp is held in June at the Kiwenz campground on the north shore of Big Lake in Sawyer, Minnesota.

My wife Patricia Northrup and my brudder Rick Gresczyk have been working on this camp for almost half a decade now.  Just to review the first year we had 189 people attend, second year was 400, third year was 500 and this year we had almost 700 registered campers. I am sure we had some attending who had not registered but attending is more important than registering anyway.

I remember a phrase I learned as a young Marine from an old crusty Gunnery Sergeant, "Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance." That was certainly the case when we began planning this year’s language camp.  My wife did the bulk of the planning while Rick and I sat in Solomon-like judgment and decided which ideas were good and which were not so good.

Patricia enlisted support from many, many people and most responded positively. The first of course was the Fond du Lac Reservation Business Committee. It costs money to put on an endeavor of this size. We needed to buy food to feed the campers, and we needed money to pay the fluent speakers and artists.

We solicited contributions of cash from various organizations. That list would include the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Duluth Public Schools, Wiigwas Press, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, and Metro State Community College. We also received contributions from private individuals.

The Fond du Lac Reservation made a huge contribution when they erected a building that houses showers and bathrooms.  They also worked on the beach area with their heavy equipment from the Rez Construction Company.

Rick Gresczyk compiled a list of fluent speakers who would help the campers learn more Ojibwemowin.  That list included Ted Atatise, Loretta Oshawe, Tom Jack, Dan Jones, Betty Blue Bird and Dawn LaPrairie.  Leonard and Mary Moose, both fluent speakers, visited the camp also.

Pat Northrup had contacted individuals and entities in the area to see who could help sponsor a meal for the campers. Among those who said yes were the Sawyer Community Center, the Brookston Community Center, The employees of the Fond du Lac Bus Barn who brought their grill, Mashkawisen and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.  Also the Gresczyk, Vainio, and Northrup families provided food. The camp cooks, Darlene Big Bear and Cynthia Dow, cooked breakfast every morning. There was enough food at each meal to feed all of the campers. Dolly Dow did the registration for the arriving campers.

Charlie Nahganub taught  many  campers how to make ingodwaasimidana ashi niiwin bawa’iganaakoog, 64 sets of wild rice knockers. Sarah Agaton Howes was once again teaching people how to make moccasins. Randy Gresczyk taught drumstick making, and Vickie Ellis showed campers how to construct a tobacco pouch, a small drum and a dream catcher. Theresa Morrison showed and taught what she knows about beadwork. I and my brother Vern showed people how to work with birch and basswood bark to make a basket. We provided the raw material and tools.

Jim Northrup, lll and his crew built the waaginogaanan that kept the rain and sun off of the campers while they were making their beautiful cultural arts.

Paul DeMain, Indian Country TV, did an excellent job of shooting three major stories from the camp. In one he shot video of campers working on birch bark baskets. He later interviewed them as they were putting their baskets together. Paul must have talked with 20 campers about what they were learning. In another part of the story about the camp, Paul gathered some fluent speakers and asked about the why the camp was important to them and the Anishinaabe people. The final story he told with his camera and sound equipment was the canoe race. He has almost three hours of the raw footage, of both the paddle and rice pole races.

Clarence Rainy provided first aid to campers, he had a cedar sign that said weweniwigamig. There was also a sign identifying the kitchen.  Jibakwewigamig said that one, Cassie Diver made both of those handsome signs.

Dr. Arne Vainio, MD, once again wowed the crowd with his Mad Science experiments. The children and a lot of adults were fascinated by his presentation.

Joselyn Smith won the prize for traveling the farthest to attend our language camp. She came from New Zealand. The prize was a pat on the back.

Mii sa iw.