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Just what are they teaching the kids at Calumet? Cultural Anthropology classes

Kali Katerburg/For the Gazette On Nov. 5, 2018, students Spencer Wiinamaki and Reino Helppi showed off their lapstrake-style boat to master boat builder Alex Comb and Calumet High School teacher Rob Bohlsen.

CALUMET TOWNSHIP — Robert Bohlsen, Calumet High School wood shop teacher, and Corey Soumis, metal shop teacher, have been waiting for over a year to start two classes, one on traditional Finnish sauna construction, and the other on traditional blacksmithing, which will culminate in manufacturing the iron hardware that will be needed to complete the construction of the sauna.

Principal Jennifer Peters, who herself of Finnish descent, said there is a definitive purpose to introducing classes pertaining to Finnish heritage.

“The biggest thing for us is that we have quite a few students (who) have Finnish-American heritage,” she said, “and to bring this program into our school would be beneficial so they could learn more about their heritage.”

For her, she said, the most important aspect is being able to “celebrate where we come from, and being to pass that knowledge on to our kids.”What’s neat is now we have two teachers in our building that have been able to learn more about the Finnish heritage,” said Peters, “and they’ll be able to pass that on to our students; not just one group of students, but for as long as they’re here in our district.”

But what of the students who are not of Finnish extraction? Will these classes benefit them, too? The long answer is yes.

From an academic standpoint, whether Finnish descent or not, what the teachers at Calumet High School are conducting falls under the umbrella of anthropology, under which is cultural anthropology, as well as archaeology. The field of archaeology includes experimental archaeology.

Experimental archaeology, by definition, attempts to generate and test an archaeological hypothesis, usually by replicating, or in this case, the feasibility of ancient cultures performing various tasks or feats. It employs a number of methods, techniques, analyses, and approaches, based upon archaeological source material such as ancient structures or artifacts.

A prime example of this is precisely what Calumet High School’s principle goal is: using experimental archaeology to create copies of historical structures, using only historically accurate technology. Referred to as reconstruction archaeology, the term suggests a replica of the past, in this case, what CLK staff refers to as a “traditional Finnish-style” sauna. With the construction of such a sauna, comes with a new understanding of the culture of the people who relied on a sauna.

As Bohlsen pointed out, when Finnish immigrants arrived in the New World, a sauna was the first building constructed on the homestead, which was a cultural norm of the time.

The Finnish heritage projects are, from a collegiate standpoint, multi-discipline, involving cultural anthropology. Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology focusing on the study of cultural variation among humans. For instance, the traditional Finnish boat constructed in 2018 might be studied for its uses as well as its construction in relation to the boats used in northern Scandinavia, called a faering. Such a study of two similar, yet different, boats, from similar and neighboring areas, would lead to a deeper understanding of the differences and similarities of Finland and Scandinavia.

The issue at Calumet High School now is repeated delays for classes, due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in place right now.

“It’s been absolutely frustrating that we haven’t been able to get this project going,” Peters said, “but once it happens, I’m excited for what that’s going to bring to our school and the district, and just our community.”

In the mean time, however, Calumet High School staff continue to move forward. Peters said Bohlsen and Soumis have been working diligently in developing a close relationship with the Finnish-American Heritage Center, while other teachers are coming onboard now, too, with other projects, such as traditional weaving, and traditional Finnish musical instruments coming into music classes, and now, exploring the possibility of bringing Finnish as a foreign language to the students at the school.

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