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Cultural passion that runs deep

BARAGA, Mich. – In 15 short years, Tashina Emery-Kauppila, Miss Keweenaw Bay 2008, has a heart that yearns to understand and pass forward her tribe’s culture, a spirit that embodies her desire to be part of countless community activities and a sense of adventure that will send her on a second trip to Europe and help reach the goal of being a big city corporate and civic leader.

One of five girls in the pageant, Kauppila was crowned on July 25 at the 30th annual Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Maawanji’iding. Her native name is Misanaquadikwe that means “Clearing of the Sky Cloud Woman.”

The other candidates were L’Anse High School juniors Jessica Lane, 17, and Jennifer L. DeCota, 17; Baraga High School seventh grader Sheila M.A. Halverson, 13, and L’Anse High School seventh grader Megan B. Tucker, 13, whose native name is Gaamaakwa translated “Head Lady.”

During the pow wow, Kauppila danced in regalia she made by hand with help from a tribal elder.

The daughter of Jeanne and Dave Kauppila, the Baraga High School tenth grader’s resume is longer than many twice her age.

At school, Tashina is active in basketball, volleyball, track, swimming, cheerleading, chorus, the Future Entrepreneurs class, and the International Club. She is the president of the KBIC Youth Council.

Fresh from a 2007 visit to Italy, the International Club has ongoing fundraisers to finance a visit to Ireland in 2010.

About 40 students from the L’Anse and Baraga high schools spent 10 days in Italy. “We had to raise all the money by ourselves and learned to be responsible,” Kauppila said

“At least 15 of us are going to Ireland in 2010 and we’ve been selling cookie dough, pizzas and candy bars.”

When she wasn’t raising funds for her trip, Kauppila was volunteering in other ways.

To encourage the Native vote, Kauppila and a couple other members of the Future Entrepreneurs class recorded Public Service Announcements on the tribe’s two radio stations.

“Your vote matters,” she said, thrilled that Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. “I would have totally voted for Obama - I love him.”

“We always do stuff for the economy,” Kauppila said of her entrepreneur class.”We go to other businesses and check out how they run it and what they do.

“I want to be some[body] important like an executive or something in business,” said Kauppila, adding she is interested in the medical field or clothing design.

She plans to reach that dream by attending college either at the University of Michigan or somewhere in New York City.

“I like to be in the bigger areas and I want to live in a city. The University of Michigan (in Ann Arbor) is super huge and I went there when I was on a seventh grade tour and fell in love with it.”

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With all these activities, it’s hard not to wonder how the high school sophomore has time to be Miss Keweenaw Bay 2008. The teen has been asked to participate in many activities since winning including events at the Upper Peninsula’s two largest universities.

On Oct. 25, Tashina was the head youth dancer for the Michigan Tech University Spirit of the Harvest Powwow in Houghton, Mich. In early November, she participated in the beginning events of the Native American Heritage Month at Northern Michigan University (NMU) in Marquette.

“I did a presentation at NMU on different styles of dancing called “fancy dance.”

The Miss Keweenaw Bay 2008 title is the realization of a dream that started years earlier.

“A couple years ago, Tashina said she wanted to run for Miss Keweenaw Bay and represent her community but I thought she was a little too young at the time and I told her to wait a couple years,” said Jeanne Kauppila. “Once Tashina made up her mind to be a contestant for Miss Keweenaw Bay, she made her own outfit with a family friend.”

Tashina took a regalia class at the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College taught by 58-year-old KBIC elder Diane Charron, who took the future princess under her wing.

Even on her own time, Charron taught Tashina how to design and create native clothing including the teen’s beautiful neon green and sky blue dress with hundreds of sequins that had to be stitched by hand. Tashina now knows how to make jewelry, medallions and plans to eventually make moccasins.

“It was really hard at first but I caught on quick.,” said the KBIC princess. “She (Charron) taught me beading and she was a great help. She helped order all the fabrics.”

Over two months the pair met once a week and then everyday as the pow wow neared.

Tashina made everything from her ankles up that she wore during the pow wow including a shawl with hanging ribbons, an intricate bead medallion, a hair piece with feather and wrapping for her braided hair.

“I loom bead,” she said. “I bead a lot of medallions and have made a whole bunch of earrings - my first pair of earrings I taught myself.”

Tashina’s parents could not be prouder and hope she’ll be a role model for others including her younger sister.

“I am really proud of her because she’s into good things and I think she wants to be a good role model for other teenagers,” her mother said.

In addition to dancing, the pageant consisted of numerous questions that the contestants had to answer in essay form including listing their commitment to the KBIC and the tribe’s future.

Tashina is soaking up as much as she can about KBIC heritage with an eye toward the future.
 She believes today’s native youth have a burning desire to learn about their tribe’s culture and heritage on many levels. And that’s where tribal elders and other concerned people can help.

“We need encouragement and it is super important to learn about our culture so we can pass it on to our younger generations.”