The theme for the 2012 WTLC Here at Home Cultural Tour is “The State of Superior.” Our tour will focus on the cultural and physical uniqueness of the area north of Hwy 8 and mostly west of Hwy 13 in Wisconsin, with additional forays to Duluth, MN and Ironwood, MI. Though but a section of the true “State of Superior,” it is the one most manageable for a week of exploratory learning. Follow our tour by checking what is posted each day under The State of Superior in the Categories section in the right column.
Since the middle of the 19th century, a steady stream of residents from northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has called for secession from their existing states in order to form the State of Superior. Such efforts reflect Northerners’ separation from urban areas farther south, as well as cultural differences, experienced through well-defined ethnic enclaves, strong connections to natural resources, and often a self-proclaimed independence of spirit, reflected in such local expressions as “jack pine savage” and the Finnish term “sisu” (courage and persistence).
Home to Ojibwe reservations as well as Scandinavian- and other European-American groups, the State of Superior is notable for people of mixed blood—variously called Findians, Scandindians. Economies rely on natural resources: fur trading and lumbering in the North Woods, commercial fishing on Lake Superior and mining for iron ore and other minerals. The chilling effect of Lake Superior and a shorter growing season prevents the agricultural enterprises more common to the south. Historically, the northern counties of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan are least populated and poorest.
To survive, a fair number of residents traditionally log or pulp wood in the winter, fish in summer and hunt in fall to put meat on the table, pick berries and garden to put food away for winter, rely on the land for fuel, sustenance and shelter. Northern artisans often create with natural materials work that expresses an appreciation of nature. Traditional arts up north are often functional: rugs to warm floors, furniture, gun stocks, baskets for gathering and winnowing, fishing lures and decoys, and even coffins.
Residents may have contentious relationships over land and water—who owns rights to Lake Superior’s tremendous reserves of fresh water? Who has the right to mine? Who legislates development? How does tourism affect quality of life for locals?