Technology and culture unite to preserve history

by Thelma Nayquonabe
Reserve, Wisconsin (NFIC) 7-07

Canoe Voyage, Out of the Interior Back to LaPoint, June 15, 16, 17, 1962, filmed by Evan A. Hart, Wisconsin Archeological Society… this project from over 40 years ago, raises questions, “What was this film about, who are the people featured in the film?” Another film, dated 1963, features, in brilliant color, Lac Courte Oreilles, Mille Lacs Ojibwe, as well as Ho-Chunk dancers in full regalia. This was filmed at the “Historyland” dance arena, just outside of Hayward, Wisconsin.
Carolyn Nayquonabe and Robert Jenkins review documents

Excitement was visible in the viewers’ eyes, as relatives, friends, grandparents, who have long since gone on to the spirit world, were recognized in the images.

The Other tribes represented in the audio tapes include: Menomonee, Lac du Flambeau and St. Croix Ojibwe, Nebraska Winnebago, as well as non-indians representing the voyagers of the past.
The Other tribes represented in the audio tapes include: Menomonee, Lac du Flambeau and St. Croix Ojibwe, Nebraska Winnebago, as well as non-indians representing the voyagers of the past. These inspiring images are part of a collection of old reel-to-reel tapes and 8 millimeter films that are currently being stored in the archival center of the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College Library/Migizi Cultural Center. “Audio Visual Production Project” began to take shape in the fall of 2006.

Over 100 reel-to-reel tapes and several films, which had been in storage at WOJB radio station for over a decade, were transferred to the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College Library/Cultural Center, at the direction of Rusty Barber, Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board vice-chair.

Since that time, interns have been diligent in the painstaking task of transferring information from the original tapes to

digital format. Through the efforts of part-time Audio Visual Engineering Technicians, Carolyn Nayquonabe and Robert Jenkins, more than 100 tapes have been “digitized” on computer tracks and will eventually be edited and transferred to compact disc format. The two interns are paid for their work through Work Based Learning Program funds, a state funded work experience program that connects classroom learning to the world of work.

The audio project is only one part of the interns’ job descriptions and is the most time-consuming, due to ancient equipment and the delicate condition of the tapes. The interns’ job also includes assisting in the design, production, and preparation of materials using a variety of audio, video, and computer equipment. For example, students will be expected to assist in setting up audio visual and computer equipment for instructional purposes.

This project is an enormous undertaking and it is fascinating, exhilarating, and carries with it a great deal of responsibility to work carefully and respectfully with the historic recordings that have been entrusted to the cultural center staff. A “new” reel-to-reel tape player/recorder has replaced the old one, which was beyond repair. With just two technicians and limited resources, the job is tedious and painstaking, but extremely rewarding for all involved.

The interns, Rob and Carolyn, intently labor over their work, oblivious to distractions. All those involved in this project agree that we have just barely “scratched the surface” when faced with the extent of the work that still needs to be completed. Some of the audio tapes contain songs that contain words and phrases in Ojibwe, and prayers and religious ceremonies were recorded. It will be necessary to separate those particular recordings and to utilize them in a respectful and appropriate manner.

“I knew about the tapes at the radio station. It seemed like they were there collecting dust. Rusty Barber took charge and moved them to the college library. These tapes belong to the people, to the tribe,” recalled Carolyn Nayquonabe, Work Based Learning Intern, and former interim manager of WOJB.

Carolyn added that the tapes were made during 1958-1959, with primarily recordings of music from different tribes. There are three 8 millimeter films that also have to be converted to digital format. “I enjoy meeting people who have the interest and who trust us with historical documents. I want to stay with this program as long as I can. I really enjoy this work,” Carolyn concluded.

Pat Shields, Lac Courte Oreilles Community College English instructor, described his involvement in the project: “The audio visual project really helps the college to reflect the mission statement, which includes the reflection of technology and the Ojibwe culture. Kimberly Blaeser, nationally known Ojibwe writer, recently presented a reading of her poetry at the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College Auditorium.

Dr. Blaeser’s presentation was filmed by Robert Jenkins, college student and audio visual engineering intern. This is an example of work that the interns are involved in.” Future projects include a Summer Media Camp, which will include the preservation of culture through the use of technology and science. Patty Loew, University of Wisconsin, Madison Professor, and Bad River Ojibwe tribal member, will lead this project.

The editing of the audio tapes will require extensive planning and further training for the interns. The process of transferring the films, which are recorded on 8 millimeter format, to DVD, is another priority. Three films, “(1/2 hour 400 BMM color) East Lake Pow-Wow, Sept. 15-16, 1962, Wisconsin-Minnesota Chippewa, Canoe Voyage “Out of the Interior Back to Lapoint” June 15, 16, 17, 1962, Filmed by Evan A. Hart, and Weaver-Ida White, Ricing-Willie Barber. Rice-Parching & Winnowing Jesse & George Coons, Tanning-Geneva Skye, Civilian Clothes-Jim Ford, Jim Billyboy, are being digitized and transferred to DVD with assistance from Jeff Spitz, Film and Editing Department of Columbia College, Chicago, Illinois, and Faith Smith of Lac Courte Oreilles. The venture of digitizing the priceless films is a tremendous leap forward in the project.

“I believe that this project was meant to be… I first heard of the reel-to-reel tapes when I got out of the service. The tapes were brought to the radio station for safe keeping, to hold on to for the people of Lac Courte Oreilles. Nothing was being done with them and I was concerned that the tapes were getting old and becoming brittle. I had the tapes brought to the college. Now that I have been able to see and hear what is being done, I’m glad that we’ve been able to preserve our culture in this way,” related Rusty Barber. “Tony Wise gave us the recordings. He did a lot for our people and I respect him for that,” added Rusty. “Tony would want these recordings preserved. This is one way of honoring our people. What we are doing is good.”

Rusty discussed the recordings with Benny Rogers, St. Croix Ojibwe elder. Benny recalled attending Historyland powwows, and stated that he would be able to help with the editing and labeling of the songs. Rusty also shared the news of this project with Mille Lacs, St. Croix, Ho-Chunk, Lac du Flambeau, Potawatomi, and Oneida tribal leaders and Historic Preservation offices. Rusty concluded, “I appreciate the work that’s being done. The word is out about that we’re trying to do. Now we need to look for more funding to continue this project.”

Library Director, Caryl Pfaff, related that the a meeting was held in early January 2006, and was attended by Rusty Barber, Barb Lacapa (WOJB Drum Song Host), Carolyn Nayquonabe (former Interim Manager of WOJB), and Caryl Pfaff. The group members discussed the best way to proceed with the transferring of the tapes to digital format. A summary was written, and a plan was put into action. A reel-to-reel tape machine was purchased and the tapes were moved into the production room, where the interns are now doing their work. Caryl added, “We really need to recognize the programs that have provided funding for this project to continue. The Institute of Museum & Library Services provided the computer workstation and the first reel-to-reel along with the storage boxes, CD cases, and software program. The server was purchased from the American Indian College funds.”

The library is currently located in the building that was designated as the Migizi cultural center, and Caryl Pfaff, the library director, acts as direct supervisor for the interns. Caryl keeps track of scheduling, signs time cards, and assists in meetings to discuss progress. A stunning new library is near completion, with a grand opening scheduled sometime in the summer of 2007. Caryl will be moving into her new office very soon, and the cultural center will once again be utilized to highlight the Ojibwe culture, as was the original intent.

“The original tapes will be kept in the archival center,” Caryl stated. “The cultural center really needs to get going. The tapes need to be completely archived and appropriate materials placed in the library or cultural center for people to listen to.”

Jeff Ames, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College Title III Director, shared the following: “Over the years we have recorded events at the college, both audio and video. Then we received a project from WOJB and the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Government to digitize historical recordings. A grant was written for digitizing old recordings that are deteriorating with age. Funds provided for some equipment needs, but the human part was missing. The Work Based Learning Intern Program provided an opportunity for our students to learn techniques for delivering the stories.”

“This project was not done as an official college project; we pioneered it and put it together, and we will see it grow.” Jeff added, “We need to develop archives of audio and video recordings. In the past, we have recorded video, and it was always a raw recording; we never had the manpower to do a final product. There was never an opportunity for our students to learn editing and post production work to make a finished product.”

“Providing manpower is something that we need to enhance. We need to tell our stories in 21st century media. Storytelling has sustained us for generations; now we need to tell our stories in a new media, for future generations. The stories of elders need to be told before they are lost.” The next step for the college is to develop technology and opportunities for studio broadcasting. New cameras are being purchased to do interviews, and this will bring with it a need for further training in editing of film.

Jeff shared his involvement and interest in the 2007 summer media camp, which is a cooperative effort with the Lac Courte Oreilles Boys and Girls Club, the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College, and the University of Wisconsin. This camp will provide the challenging opportunity for middle and high school students to create their own stories, and they will learn techniques to complete the stories, such as the use of still photography. Jeff concluded: “The more skills that we develop, the more these projects will gain momentum on their own. These projects will help get our community involved and maintain our cultural identity.”

Tony Wise, Hayward, Wisconsin, businessman and entrepreneur, and friend of many of the Wisconsin Indian people, donated the audio recordings and films to the people of Lac Courte Oreilles. Paul Demain, Editor of News from Indian Country, acknowledged that Tony Wise provided the opportunity for music and events to be recorded.

“Tony Wise took a liking to some people on the reservation, and he was a close friend to many notable Lac Courte Oreilles leaders,” Paul stated. “Tony had the financial capability to promote the Hayward area as a supporter of historic preservation, and he became very intrigued by the idea of recording social dances and songs of the Ojibwe people. Much of his time was devoted to traveling with his Ojibwe friends, and he invited them to travel with him as far away as Europe. Tony and his Ojibwe friends spent many evenings discussing projects that might be possible. Songs and events were eventually recorded, and this activity did not receive the approval of some of the Ojibwe people.”

“A few of the ceremonial leaders did not believe in recording the traditional songs, and only agreed to do so if there was first a feast and prayer offered. A drum chief explained that the songs belong to the spirits, and he would not allow the recording of the drum. As a result, the songs were accompanied by tapping the beat on a box or cardboard.” Paul continued, “As Tony Wise advanced in age, he realized that he needed to leave documents, artifacts, and other cultural items to the people of Lac Courte Oreilles.”

Many historical items were returned to the Lac Courte Oreilles people by the Wise family after Tony passed away. According to Jerry Smith, Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, the tapes were presented to the people of Lac Courte Oreilles at a community gathering.

Jerry explained, “This was meant for the nation as a whole. There is a lot of sensitive material on the tapes and that information should be brought out only for certain purposes. Many tribes are represented here, not only Lac Courte Oreilles people, so we should proceed with care. The information, songs, words, images, will have to be sorted out carefully.” In a document recently written by Janie Wise, Tony’s daughter, she wrote, “It was our intent to gift them to the people of Lac Courte Oreilles. The tapes were presented to my dad’s good friends, Eddie Benton and Dick Brooks.”

The project is currently being coordinated by Rusty Barber, Lac Courte Oreilles Vice-Chair, and a committee of Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College employees: Caryl Pfaff, Librarian, Pat Shields, English Instructor, Jeff Ames, Title III Coordinator, and Thelma Nayquonabe, Work Based Learning Program Director. A major goal that the committee members identified is to get the reel-to-reel tapes edited and transferred to compact disc. “Tribes will be notified to invite them to bring their historic preservation representatives to review the tapes. A presentation will be planned to open this project up to the community for a whole day, for the purposes of identifying the information that is stored in the tapes,” suggested Rusty Barber.

This historic project is just beginning to take flight. It is going to take many hours of reviewing, editing, and reviewing again and again, until the finished product can be made available to the public. The Lac Courte Oreilles people are realizing the significance of the tapes, and the information that is contained in the recordings. This community is truly blessed to have the language and culture of our people recorded for all time. We will go forward with this project with great care and enthusiasm.

For more information, contact Thelma Nayquonabe, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College Work Based Learning Program @ 715-634-4790, ext. 115, e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..