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UP students head to Washington history competition

By Stacey Kukkonen
Paindesdale, Michigan (AP) May 2010

Jeffers High School juniors Brittany Puska and Hannah Rundman are heading back to the nation’s capital, a place which has become familiar over the last four years.

Puska and Rundman are finalists for the History Day competition to be held in Washington in June, taking their exhibit, “Fred Dakota: Gambling His Way Into History” on the road.

“The exhibit focuses on Fred Dakota, who started the first tribal gaming,” Puska said, adding they wanted to concentrate on a local topic.

Decorating their board like a slot machine, the students made their exhibit interactive and interesting to look at.

“That’s the key,” Puska said.

Over the years, the two students have learned how to craft the perfect exhibit. This is, after all, their fourth opportunity to compete at the national level in Washington.

The students were sent to finals in eighth, ninth, and 10th grade, once placing sixth in the nation.

“You only get money for the top three places and you get medals for places one, two and three,” Rundman said.


Every year, the students took the valuable information and advice they received from judges and applied it to their work the next year, putting months of time into every project.

“In Michigan, I think 5,000 people participated,” Puska said.

Being the top three in the senior division for group exhibits was the icing on the cake.

“Everyone says, ‘You’re pros, you should be calm,”’ Puska said. “But not us.”

Rundman said they actually get nervous and superstitious and even kiss a clock at 11:11.

“11:11 is supposed to be good luck,” Rundman said.

Good luck may be a tad helpful, but if it wasn’t for Dakota, the exhibit wouldn’t be what it is today.

“I can’t even imagine what it would be like if we didn’t speak with Fred,” Puska said. “He gave us so much information.”

Back in the 1980s, Dakota was struggling financially and wanted to give his family a better life, Rundman said. Dakota decided to get a casino license and other tribes followed in his footsteps.

“There were no other Indian casinos in the country and he opened the first one right in Baraga,” Rundman said.

The project proved to be a winner for this year’s theme of Innovation in History for the students. Working together over the years has brought the two girls back together as friends and pushed the two to strive to do their very best.

“Putting what you learn and being creative with it is fun,” Puska said, while both agreed creating an exhibit is the best part about History Day.

The most important part of the project was meeting Dakota and using his knowledge as a tool for success.

“He told us everything about himself and he gave us newspapers and stuff to use and it was a big help,” Rundman said.

“He made such a big impact and he doesn’t get recognition,” Puska added.

Dakota even followed the students to the state competition in Dearborn this month, bringing his wife and family members. Dakota even plans to accompany the students to the national finals, where they will have the opportunity to compete for money and scholarships.

Michigan History Day is an educational program of the Historical Society of Michigan, the state’s oldest cultural organization. Michigan History Day is part of the National History Day program and is designed to encourage students in grades four through 12 to explore historical subjects related to a broad annual theme.

The national competition is June 13-17.