With Grand Portage National Monument Chief of Interpretation Anna Deschampe
Long before there were thousand-foot freighters on Lake Superior, there were people in canoes, navigating the waves. In the 1790s, during the North American fur trade, many of those canoes were heading to and from what is now the Grand Portage National Monument. This unique site explores the partnership between the Grand Portage Anishinaabe and the North West Company, at the place known as Gichi Onigaming (Great Carrying Place).
Two depots of the North West Company have been restored here along with the 8.5-mile portage trail that allowed Native Americans, explorers, and voyageurs to bypass high falls, cascades, and gorges, and has been a critical transportation route for thousands of years.
Season 4 Episode 3 of the Lake Superior Podcast features Grand Portage National Monument Chief of Interpretation Anna Deschampe, who joins hosts Walt Lindala and Frida Warra to talk about this special place and the upcoming Rendezvous Days celebration August 11-12, 2023.
The annual rendezvous at Grand Portage National Monument began when community members, Park Service employees, staff from Fort William Historic Site across the border, and area enthusiasts came up with the idea to dress up in some fur trade garb, do some Canoe Races, and play games that all date back to the day of the Voyager, Deschampe explains.
This year, the park has over 215 reenactors already registered to dress up as a person living during the fur trade, and act as if they were from that period of time. “We have people coming up here with all sorts of super cool skills and abilities,” Deschampe said, noting the wide range of workshops including tin smithing, blacksmithing, making corn husk dolls, Voyager action figures, and stools as well as a scavenger hunt and historic Camp tour. The event also includes live music, dancing, games and an opening drum ceremony and that features the Stone Bridge drum group.
“Stone Bridge is a historic bridge within the park here and so this local drum group who were young boys at the time they got together and said ‘we want to start a drum group and we're calling ourselves the Stone Bridge singers because we like to hang out at the stone bridge,’” Deschampe said. “Now they're grown and have kids of their own and they still come back year after year and lead this opening drum ceremony for us here.”
In 2023 the event will have a theme The Northwest Fur Company Looks West.
“The Northwest company and the Grand Portage Trail opened the West for exploration and profit,” Deschampe said, “so this year several of our events and workshops focused on what was learned during that time and the differences reflected by the new landscapes that were encountered in the journey across the continent.”
The Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa will hold a Pow Wow August 11-13 just up the road from the National Monument within the community’s Pow Wow grounds.
Grand Portage National Monument is a unit of the National Park Service co-managed with the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. “With our co-management what that means is that we work side by side and in tandem with the Grand Portage band of Lake Superior Chippewa,” Deschampe said. “We are right nestled within the community so engaging with the community and making sure that the Grand Portage people have a space to tell their story with authenticity and from their perspective is very very important.”
Deschampe is a member of the Grand Portage Band, born and raised in the community. Both of her grandfathers worked in the maintenance division of the Grand Portage National Monument. While discussing her history with the park, Deschampe emphasizes that she is not alone as a staff person with deep connection. “We have here within this park so many staff members that are so dedicated and have been here for such a long time,” she said. “Some of those staff members are here from the community some of them are not but really the common thread is just a real passion for the place of Grand Portage.”
NPLSF appreciates the insights and perspectives from Anna Deschampe, who refers to herself as “a member of an incredibly dedicated team who all work together to provide really high-quality experiences for those who come to the monument for the first time second time or even the 100th time.”
All Rendezvous Days events are free and open to the public. Learn more by listening to the full podcast episode—or visit the Rendezvous Days page of the Grand Portage National Monument website for details.
About the NPLSF The National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation (NPLSF) exists to provide financial support for projects and programs that preserve the natural resources and cultural heritage of the five Lake Superior national parks: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Grand Portage National Monument, Isle Royale National Park, Keweenaw National Historical Park, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Funded through grants and private donations, NPLSF projects and programs ensure that these great parks and historic sites are maintained for the enjoyment of all current and future visitors.