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History center Voyageur Day salutes early U.P. residents

May 27, 2012
Johanna Boyle - Journal Ishpeming Bureau ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - History came alive Saturday at the Marquette Regional History Center for the first-ever Voyageur Day, a celebration of early life in the Upper Peninsula and the interaction between the native Ojibwa peoples and European voyageurs.

An expansion of elementary school curriculum made available to schools this spring, Voyageur Day combined a mock fur trade activity with displays of traditional Native American artwork and the construction of a birch bark canoe to help museum visitors understand more about early interactions between two very different groups of people.

"We were trying to teach to the curriculum of the schools," history center Executive Director Kaye Heibel said. "I bet adults and families would enjoy this."

Article Photos

Above, volunteer Mary Davis explains fur trading to Marquette Regional History Center visitors Maya Worthington, 5, Julia King, 9, and Shylee Worthington, 9, Saturday as part of an event called Voyageur Day. At left, quiller Yvonne Walker Keshick, a Native American artisan from Petoskey, works on a birch bark box during the event, which celebrated early life in the Upper Peninsula and the interaction between the Ojibwa peoples and the European voyageurs. (Journal photos by Johanna Boyle)

The fur trade activity allowed visitors to take on the part of either a French voyageur or an Ojibwa native. After learning traditional greetings the two groups used, participants learned about the goals the two groups had when trading - maintain a good relationship while getting a good price for the desired items - and then traded furs for items like firearms, mirrors, metal objects and beads.

Besides the fur trade, Voyageur Day also featured live music, speakers and a variety of Native American artisans at work on traditional projects.

"I was about 19," porcupine quill worker Yvonne Walker Keshick of Petoskey said of learning her skill. "It was one of President Johnson's anti-poverty programs."

Starting work at an artists co-op downstate, Walker Keshick said she learned from other artists to use quills to decorate everything from leather to traditional birch bark boxes.

"The original boxes were used for food storage," she said. "Since we didn't have a written language, the picture (of the food) was on the cover.

"Birch bark is very bitter, so the insects didn't touch it. It was perfect to store foods."

Walker Keshick said she was interested in traveling to Marquette for the event because her local tribe is also interested in starting its own museum.

Visitors can learn more about the early history of the U.P. by visiting the Marquette history center. A special exhibit on the history of canoes is also being offered until the beginning of September.

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is



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