Jay Cooke celebrates with its original stewards

Another strong season of visitorship at Jay Cooke State Park found Lisa Angelos grateful but also reflective. After the busiest campaign ever in 2015, the park manager is projecting another 375,000 to 400,000 visitors this year.

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So when it came time to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Minnesota state parks and trails at Jay Cooke on Sunday, Angelos chose to partner with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa for an event they tabbed a Sharing Community Gathering.

“I felt like we couldn’t celebrate 125 years without looking back and recognizing the people who were here before,” she said, calling the Ojibwe neighbors the park’s oldest and longest stewards.

The drums and singing from the band’s Cedar Creek Singers that started the day’s event rousted campers from across Minnesota Highway 210, including Suz Hoppe and her 5-year-old daughter Addison.

“We heard the drums and wanted to see what was going on,” Hoppe said as Addison led her mother toward the archery range. Pantomiming the bow-and-arrow draw, Addison said, “I already know how.”

“We watched the Olympics,” Addison said, “every day.”

The event featured a variety of learning stations and billed itself as “no-waste,” with compostable drinking cups, and blueberries for a treat.

“If we’re going to make another 125 years,” Angelos said, “we’re going to have to set an example.”

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Amid an authentic birch-bark canoe, a moccasin beading demonstration and a table that featured a variety of natural foods and remedies — such as potent homemade white-pine vinegar — one of the day’s highlights was an Ojibwe-language puppet show that teemed with youngsters in the crowd, some of them hearing Ojibwe for the first time.

Alex Kmett, a language-immersion teacher at Fond du Lac, talked about how important it was for young people to learn a second language. He described knowing only English as a person using only one eye with no depth perception.

“If you have two you can see a lot more clearly,” he said.

Since learning the language starting 12 years ago, he’s grown a deep appreciation for elders and the humor steeped in their words.

He described the Ojibwe language as one with deep meaning and understanding of the world around it — with some words so long as to be self-defining.

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So while a bee may be a simple “aamoo,” the word for coffee, “makade-mashkikiiwaaboo,” means “black liquid that tastes like medicine.”

Some say the word for blueberry pie is the longest in the language, he said. But after reciting the mouthful, “I can think of some longer ones,” Kmett said.

Over his shoulder was the “Gichigami-ziibi” — the ever-present St. Louis River with its loud and constant washing of spines of rock.

Translating the Ojibwe word, Kmett said: “The place where the river ends.”

Written by Brady Slater as published in the Duluth News Tribune.

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