The Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center at Northern Michigan University has announced that traditional wood carver Russell Dees of Marquette and the Native American Students Association of NMU are the two recipients of the 2021 Upper Peninsula Folklife Awards.
The awards will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, at the beginning of a concert by Metis fiddler Jamie Fox. For more information on that event, please visit www.nmu.edu/beaumier.
Dees was born on the Hannahville Indian Community and grew up in McFarland, Mich. He attended Northern Michigan College in the early 1960s, and then served in the military before returning to Northern in the 1970s. He graduated with a degree in industrial education and wood working and taught in schools for a few years. Dees became a contractor in Marquette and eventually worked as a building trades supervisor for the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Throughout his life, Dees practiced his great love of wood carving, which he attributes to his Anishinaabe roots: “our nation's first wood carvers,” he states. He became a highly respected carver of hunting decoys, hand drums and kitchen utensils. He now specializes in carving wooden spoons and conducting workshops with budding carvers. He splits his time between Marquette and Arizona.
The former Anishinaabe Club was formed at NMU in the fall of 1992. The club hosted cultural activities such as beading and dreamcatcher classes and, in 1993, took over the hosting duties of the annual “Learning to Walk Together” Traditional Pow Wow. In 1996, students from other tribal nations requested that the organization change its name to be more inclusive. The group agreed and officially became the Native American Students Association (NASA) in fall 1996.
The “LTWT” Pow Wow is now in its 27th year and is normally held during the winter semester. The pow wow features multiple drums, dancers, and vendors over a one- or two-day period. NASA has hosted the event in various locations. It is now held at the Armory.
In 2001, NASA started the annual First Nations Food Taster. It is held during November, Native American Heritage Month, and serves as a fundraiser for the LTWT Pow Wow. The menu represents historic and contemporary Native American foods. In recent years, it has featured recipes from the Decolonizing Diet Project (DDP), a research project that includes foods indigenous to the Great Lakes region. NASA prepares a generous meal for an average of 300-400 people.
Each October, NASA has a daylong commemoration and event on Indigenous People's Day, which includes gatherings in the center of campus, drumming, songs and talks at the Center for Native American Studies' Firesite, and evening lectures.