Area celebrates Finnish ties with centennial

Eight year old Ishpeming resident Kailey Hooper learns a traditional Finnish Folk dance from her grandmother Gina Bietila during the 22nd Annual Pikkajula or Little Christmas celebration at the Ishpeming Elks Club on Sunday. The Finnish Centennial, coming up Wednesday gave attendees of the dance plenty to celebrate (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

ISHPEMING — The 22nd annual “Pikkujoulu” — Little Christmas — celebration at the Ishpeming Elks Club seemed a little sweeter this year, and it wasn’t just the pulla bread.

This year’s party, sponsored by the League of Finnish-American Societies, was on Sunday, only three days shy of the Finnish Centennial which will be marked this Wednesday.

U.P. resident and Finland native Tanja Stanaway is one of many Finns in the central Upper Peninsula who have centennial fever.

“I’ve got my pin,” Stanaway said, pointing to Finland 100 pin on her lapel. “For 100 years Finland has stood on her own, without interference from those big neighbors. This is a great thing for Finland and Finnish people everywhere”

Stanaway, who has been in the United States for decades, has spent much of her life keeping the Finnish heritage alive through language and music.

“I try my best to keep it going.” Stanaway said. “I am just happy to be a part of it.”

One of the most recognized Finnish words in the Upper Peninsula is Sisu which is roughly translated to mean will, determination and perseverance — it is a word that perhaps best describes the formation of a country.

On Dec. 6, 1917, the senate in the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland declared independence as the result of a communist revolution during October of that year — ending a century of Russian control, according to articles published by the Finnish Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Prior to that, Finland had been under the control of the neighboring Swedish kingdom for more than 600 years.

Despite recognition as a nation from several European countries the declaration of Finland’s independence was not without strife.

Soon after the declaration, the country became embroiled in a bloody civil war, and at the end of January 1918, the government was forced to flee Helsinki when challenged by Finnish left-wing parties.

The Red Guards — originating mainly from the working class — had Russian Bolshevik ties and envisioned a Finnland as a socialist republic were at war with the White Guards — who represented the upper and middle classes, farmers and peasantry with German backing

The two sides engaged in 108 days of heavy fighting. Approximately 37,000 Finns were killed, according to the Finnish Embassy publication. General Carl Gustaf Mannerheim led the White Guards to victory in May of 1918, the publication states.

The country initially established itself as a constitutional monarchy with a German prince as king, but rejected those ambitions after Germany lost World War I.

More trouble ensued for the fledgling nation during World War II when, despite a declaration of neutrality Finland was invaded by the Soviet Union in November 1939, beginning the Winter War. The Finns were forced to concede in 1940 despite fierce fighting — the resulting treaty of Moscow gave around 10 percent of Finnish territory to the Soviet Union.

The Finnish government tried to retake territory it lost after Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, resulting in a British declaration of war on Finland in December of that year.

Its actions during the war resulted in the Finnish government ultimately conceding more land to the Soviet Union in 1944, and is ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in reparations.

Finland initially identified itself as a free republic soon after its centennial, it is now considered to be a parliamentary republic today. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has been in power there since 2012.

The Upper Peninsula is a part of Finnish history in its own way, as one of the regions Finns with “American fever” immigrated between 1864 and 1920.

In fact, many of the approximately 360,000 immigrants settled in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin to work in the mining or logging professions during that time frame, according to the Finnish Embassy publication.

But the influx of Finns is centered much closer to home than that three-state radius. Many people of Finnish decent still live in the Upper Peninsula. In fact, in 1996, 51,214 Finnish Americans were residents in a regional “Sauna Belt” which stretches from the north central U.P. around the western shore of Lake Superior to include another 8,177 Finnish American residents in the five northernmost counties in neighboring Wisconsin, and 41,533 in five counties of northwestern Minnesota, according an essay by Northern Michigan University sociology professor Michael Loukinen written that same year.

“Historically, the U.P. has been and still is the nation’s primary settlement area for Finnish Americans,” the essay states, “and they have left their tracks on the region.”

Residents who want to know more about the centennial are invited to the Marquette Regional History Center from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday.

Attendees will experience the foods, music, artifacts, and arts of the Finnish culture.

Guest speaker Sharon Franklin-Rahkonen, an associate professor of history at Indiana University where she studied minority identity in Finland, will be there for a special presentation.

Admission for the event is free, although donations are welcome, according to the MRHC website.

For more information call 906-226-3571 or visit marquettehistory.org

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.