Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

Community Coalition Embarks on Heritage Project to Bring Cultures Together

By Richard D. Ackley, Jr.
Members of the Community Coalition of Forest County (CCFC) gathered in the Forest County boardroom last Wednesday to participate in an introductory meeting to create a local heritage program.
Michelle Gobert, UW Extension Positive Youth Development Director and CCFC Secretary, welcomed a small group of coalition members representing the Sokaogon Chippewa Community, Laona, Wabeno and Crandon to this first meeting.
Kimberlee Soldier, CCFC Chairperson, Tribal AmeriCorps Member and Sokaogon Chippewa Community representative, stated, “Getting our communities together is important in learning about our culture, sharing ideas and working to get others more involved in Native culture is vital. We thought that forming this Subcommittee of the CCFC would be a great idea to connect our communities on another level and that maybe more folks will get a better understanding of where others came from.”
Michelle explained that heritage is central to our sense of place and identity, and to lose our heritage causes us to suffer from the loss of norms and rituals that belong to us as individuals and as a group. She also shared the idea that today, more than ever, we need our youth and community members to have a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves.
“As a people, we need to know where we came from to understand our heritage. Local history and heritage will enhance our further understanding of who we are,” Michelle said.
Mary Thornton, CCFC Vice Chairperson and RecoveryCorps member, stated, “We can offer healing by embracing our culture and a unity can be built.”
Michelle explained that one of their goals is to expand connections to organizations and institutions, including museums, festivals, cultural committees and historical societies. The focus is on the opportunities that already exist in the county to promote the understanding of our shared heritage and how having a strong sense of connection leads to positive well-being and prevention of things such as substance abuse.
Michelle discussed the fact that Forest County has long been a melting pot of cultures. Settlers came here from Poland and Germany more than 100 years ago to start a new life. People from Kentucky migrated here during the early 20th century to engage in the vast timber and lumber industry, and that heritage remains alive today. A vast network of railroads began bringing even more newcomers to Forest County. The Sokaogon Ojibwe and the Potawatomi occupied the lands in and around the Forest County area long before Wisconsin became a state. The two Tribes continue to keep their heritage and culture practices alive.
The concept of creating a heritage fair was part of the discussions. Michelle suggested that a fair has potential of being a good way to engage local residents and to combine knowledge of history with cultural sharing. For example, Cheri Collins, a coalition member from the Wabeno Historical Society, has a vast amount of knowledge to share about the unique history of Wabeno. Cassandra Graikowski, coalition member and the Sokaogon Chippewa Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, suggested engaging youth in positive activities to learn from Elders and become more involved in oral history activities.
This newly formed subcommittee plans to expand its membership and outreach. Future meetings will begin soon, and anyone who is interested in participating or sharing information may contact Michelle Gobert at the UW Extension office at 715-478-7797.