Building a destination: Love of Pasi:pahki:nen
By Kris Leonhardt
We continue our series on the various aspects of Stevens Point’s Cultural Commons, leading up to the spring grand opening of what organizers hope to become a destination location.
STEVENS POINT – In 2015, the Cultural Commons Park project was slowly becoming reality, when one community member stepped forward to work toward a piece in the park to celebrate the Upper Wisconsin River Band of the Menominee’s longtime presence in the area – a presence that spanned a thousand years and lasted well into the 1800s.
“My husband, Mike Hoffman – Ci:hkwanakwa:t – a Menominee and Ottawa descendant and resident of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, probably as far back as 2013-14, heard rumblings about this idea of a Cultural Commons,” Karen Ann recalled. “It was probably winter 2014-15, when someone actually stepped up to Mike with some of the folk tales around the native inhabitants of this land.
“It was in 2015, that someone shared with us a map of the gardens, and in that map of those gardens there was to be a dugout canoe thrust bow first into the ground, with a transom end; that was to celebrate the native and industrial timber heritage of the area.
“You know, it was at that point that my Mike said, ‘No, no, no. We have to get the authentic story out.’
“So the truth of it is that Pasi:pahki:nen, it juts out as point of land into the water, that is the original Menominee name for this place. It has been homeland to the Menominee people since…ever. In fact, this garden is being built on top of a Menominee ricing grounds, last used by the Upper Wisconsin River Band of the Menominee people, Headman Oshkosh.
“So many people involved in the building of this garden were unaware that they were walking on the bones, the campfires, and the homes of the people who first welcomed them to this area. That pulled at Mike’s heart. In fact, he was fond of saying that “too often many people want to start history with the first bootprint, and there were moccasins here before that. So, it was important to Mike that the authentic voice of the first inhabitants, of the first stewards, the first occupants of Pasi:pahki:nen be recognized.”
Mike developed and designed what will be a 12-14 stainless steel, life-size canoe authentically styled after the Menominee birch-bark canoes, fitted with a ricer and a poler.
“Ricing is a team activity – one moves the canoe through the rice beds, the other asks the rice if they won’t gently fall into the boat,” Karen Ann said, describing the activity captured in the design. “As the rice springs forward and springs back, it not only gives its blessings to the people in the boat, but it gives its blessings back to the water. So, the rice reseeds itself and as it is reseeding itself, our other brothers come – and so the ducks come and they feast with the natives, and they feast with the river, and they feast with the ecosystem that supports all living things. This is the message of the indigenous – love of Pasi:pahki:nen.”
Stricken with lung cancer, Mike sought assistance from his friend, John McDonald, Jr. to bring the sculpture to life. The pair created a quarter-scale model of the sculpture and presented to the planning committee, but fundraising goals were not met in time for Mike to see its progression.
After Mike’s death, Karen Ann stepped forward to help secure the remaining funds needed.
“The sad part was that Mike died before it happened,” she said. “But, I will tell you this: two or three days before Mike’s death, he was in conversation with John McDonald, refining, pushing, moving, toward the installation, and that installation will happen, finally…Sept. 21 of 2019, the contract was signed allowing full steam ahead on this project. So, installation is planned for spring of 2020, and at that time, I will personally organization a dedication, and we will do it in a very native way.”
Next week: The eagle sculpture