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The tradition continues

Independence Day celebration at Finnish American Heritage Center

Finnish American Historical Archives, Finlandia University The founders of the Suomi Synod, Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Hancock. Left to right are J.J. Holka, K.L. Tolonen, and J.K. Nikander. Their founding of Suomi College, in 1896, to preserve Finnish religion, culture, and heritage. The Finnish American Heritage Center is the outreach of the college and later Finlandia University. On Dec. 6, the Heritage Center is once again hosting the annual observation of Finnish Independence Day.

HANCOCK — On December 6, 1917, Finland’s Parliament convened to discuss two different declarations of Finnish independence from Russia after the Bolsheviks took control of the country in the Russian Revolution. The vote was 100 for and 88 against. Finland became self-governing. That was 106 years ago. Just one year later, Finnish residents in Michigan’s Copper Country first observed their homeland’s independence. It has been observed and celebrated ever since. This year is no different.

The Finnish American Heritage Center announced in a release on Tuesday that one of the Copper Country’s longest-standing traditions will take place at the Finnish American Heritage Center at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, December 6, when the entity dubbed the “Smithsonian of Finnish America” hosts its annual celebration of Finland’s Independence Day.

The public is invited to the event, which will include a performance by the Kivajat Dancers, musical selections by pianist Kathleen Alatalo Arten, and a message from Finlandia Foundation National, the new proprietors of the Heritage Center.

The program will also feature the announcement of the 2024 Hankookin Heikki by the city of Hancock’s Finnish Theme Committee, the release says.

“The chosen honoree will preside over the Heikinpäivä festivities – which take place over several days in January, culminating with a full day of celebration on Saturday, Jan. 27,” the release states.

The program is expected to be about one hour, and there is no admission charge, but donations are appreciated.

Most of these celebration events took place, says the Heritage Center, took place at Finlandia University (formerly known as Suomi College), which remained true to the Finnish roots and sensibilities upon which it was founded for the entirety of its 126-year existence. In fact, Suomi College was founded to do just that.

In 1867, the Quincy Mining Company became the first mining firm in the Lake Superior mining region to recruit Finnish miners, who were then working in Norway, to the area. Their numbers quickly increased over the next two decades. Most of the new Copper Country residents belonged to the Evangelical-Lutheran Church and their congregations relied on mission pastors, among whom were Reverends Juho Kustaa Nikander, K.L. Tolonen,. J.W. Eloheimo, and J.J. Hoikka. In 1890, these mission pastors formed the Suomi Synod of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The Copper Country was a multiethnic, multireligion region, however, where it was easy to be subject to outside influences. Fearing their congregants would lose their connections to their religion and culture, in 1896, the synod organizers founded the Suomi College and Theological Seminary.

Among its goals were to preserve Finnish heritage, culture and the Finnish religion, as well as to train other pastors to minister to other Finnish congregations in America, such as those in Minnesota and Illinois.

Today, the Finnish American Heritage Center is the most outward expression of that dedication, and now operating under the leadership, and with the support of, Finlandia Foundation National. It will, the Tuesday release states, continue providing patrons from around the world with a direct connection to Finnish-American heritage and history, while preserving the legacy of the university locally and beyond.

For more information about this year’s Independence Day program, call 906-487-7549.

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