Surrounded by Lake Superior, the Keweenaw Peninsula is an area rich in history that dates back thousands of years. The
Great Lakes Basin is home to many, including my people who have been a part of the region for many, many years.
Footprints of the Ancestors
My studio is found in the historic Vertin Building in downtown Calumet. My ancestors are still very much a presence in
the region. My grandmother, Big Wing, told me the history of my great grandfather, Golden Hawk, who worked the miskwabik,
or copper, many years ago.
As we follow the paths of our ancestors, we walk in their steps. My workshop “Footprints of the Ancestors”
honors those whose paths have long lain on the earth and entwines them with those paths we make.
Much of the copper found on the earth’s surface in the Keweenaw is float copper – material carried from the
place where it was formed and deposited elsewhere. Geologists and miners can trace much of this copper back to its source
– Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Keweenaw.
For thousands of years before European settlers arrived, the Anishinabe, the first people of the Great Lakes Basin, mined
the native copper in the cliffs cut by Lake Superior. Evidence of the ancestors is found in tools, producing pits and burial
sites and preserved by their descendants.
The Sacred Elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water
Using fire and water, the ancient Anishinabe worked copper ore from the rock. With stone tools they extracted the metal
copper to make tools.
In 1842, the Ojibway ceded claims on much of the Upper Peninsula to the United States government. Thousands of miners rushed
to the area to extract the copper abundant in the peninsula. Mines were purchased by large companies and yielded poor results
until the Cliff Mine’s massive quantities of native copper were discovered. The Cliff Mine first opened in 1860, and
by 1900 its shafts were the deepest in the world. The Cliff Mine proved to be a valuable resource for many years until the
cost of transportation and mining became too great and companies and their workers left the area.
The influence of the ancient Anishinabe and the miners is apparent in Keweenaw. All comes full-circle in the teaching,
history and love of this place called the Keweenaw.