We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Charette and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michael, what are you inspired by?
I am Indigenous, I am a member of the red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. Ever since I was young I learned stories that would fuel my imagination. Stories of love and lose, stories that start with “When the world was forever cold” Stories that are so old we don’t even know how far back they go. The Anishinaabe culture/history is a living history an oral history. passed on from one generation to the next. I learned stories of creation from different story teller in different communities. Hearing these stories my whole life has inspired me to seek understanding in all of the creators creation. It wasn’t until as recently as 1978 that Indigenous people were giving “freedom of religion” by the U.S. government, only 44 years ago. Before that we had generations of silents. Can you Imagine not being able to practice your culture our speak your language and being forced to assimilate to a culture not your own? After many generations of not having a voice, it takes some time to find the best way to express what we as a people have been through. Having an open conversation about this cultural genocide, teaches understanding empathy, acceptance, and eventually healing, together for all peoples involved in this. Past present and future.
The resilience of the Ojibwe people have inspired me to learn about our culture and language using these teachings as spiritual tools to be used in everyday life.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Art has alway been apart of me. From an early age I learned how to make “Indian arts and crafts” They say the best gifts are the ones you make yourself with your heart and soul. After high school I ended up moving to South Carolina where I made a new friends. I was there for Christmas and wanted to give them gifts. I made them small dreamcatchers. There we so amazed and intrigued by these traditional Ojibwe style dreamcatchers that I began to make more and more of them for friends and family. The Dreamcatcher is made using a red willow stick that we form into a hoop. After it dries we can put a web within this hoop. The web can be made of different material, I prefer using a waxed thread some call synthetic sinew. These dreamcatchers can be decorated with feathers and beads, or whatever the artist is can envision. I found my way home and had an idea for a family dream catcher that would include each member. I found a red willow branch that I could make multiple hoop on, five to be exact. The idea was to show that we all come from one branch, then to break the dreamcatchers off the branch and give one to family members.
However after completing this dreamcatcher, there was no way I could break! It was beautiful! I ended up displaying it at different art show until it made its way back to a family members ceiling where is still hangs to this day. Since then I’ve made many dreamcatchers in this style, with multiple hoops, different color and bead designs. to date the most amount of dreamcatchers I’ve had on one branch is 16 dreamcatchers!
After making single hooped dreamcatcher I started to see other dreamcatcher designs. I started to make double hooped and triple hooped dreamcatchers. I started to see butterflies wings, dragonflies, I even made a bicycle with dreamcatcher wheels. I made a person out of dreamcatchers which took a few months and 26 different dreamcatchers to complete.
in addition to the dreamcatchers I make these driftwood wood burnings. I use traditional Ojibwe floral designs, animals and my own style on driftwood I collect on the shores of Gichigami (Lake Superior). Some of my driftwood stories take me months to complete. I sign the backs of these pieces with my Ojibwe name Baapi Waagosh meaning Laughing Fox, and the titles are in Ojibwe such as “Waabigwan” meaning Flower.
All the while Im making these pieces I participate in local art shows and I reach out to area communities were my art starts selling. Bridging that cultural gap and help educate about the Ojibwe peoples. There was also the traditional out lets like the Powwow where I could move more of my pieces. I kept at it show after show, the effect the art had on people always astonished me. As my pieces became more and more intricate, and I could see people really appreciated it. I would tie in traditional stories to the pieces. Like the creation story of the dreamcatcher. In that way helping my culture live on.
At 26 I found the Native Flute, like art, music has always been there with me. In kindergarten I used a pass to go to the bathroom. When I didn’t return they found me with my ear to the space under a door where I was listening to someone playing piano music.
I traded a Dreamcatcher that took me a few months to make for my first flute. I didn’t know anything about it or how to play it. At the time I was living in a cabin out in the woods close to the Lake and had few visitors. I walked out into the woods with the flute and softly blew into it. The sound it made was mesmerizing and I think I blew just one note for a few hours. I began to play in the woods more and more getting familiar with this beautiful instrument. I found places in the woods to play like by a creek bed, In a meadow, I would find the shafts of sunlight coming through the canopy that would warm me like the sound of the flute would warm me.
It was in the woods were I learned my first flute songs, oddly enough I learned one from a squirrel a song that I call “squirrel song.” Little did I know that was just the start. I would spend years in the woods learning the flute. With no one to teach me how to play it I was able to develop my own technique.
Eventually I made my way to street corners in the next town playing what the woods taught me. People would stop and listen. They would tell me that the sound, the music would take away the negative feelings there were experiencing. I learned then these were healing instruments. They would ask me about the flute were it came from and if I made them. Inspired by there words and there positive feedback I began to learn more about this healing instrument. I learned the creation stories, history, and even learned how to make the Native American Flute.
Since then I’ve had flute workshops, teaching others how to make them. I also made my way from those street corners to preforming all over the United States. I have over 20 Flutes now each with their own story, song, and spirit. I have began recording their voices and now have 2 albums out. my first album is called “Tales of Laughing Fox” and another called “Looking Back” currently I’m working on a third Album that I hope to complete this fall.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live on the shores of Gichigami, (Lake Superior) Its truly one of the most beautiful places in the world. Its the place The Anishinaabe/Obijwe/Chippewa people have been calling home for the last few thousand years. Evinence shows that people have been living around the the Great Lake chain system for the last 11,000 years. They say our DNA it traced back over 20,000 years ago. This area holds much cultural and spiritual significance to the original inhabitance. I grew up on these shores there’s so many stories and beautiful places. Most of these places you have to be a tribal member to visit. First we would travel to Frog Bay National park. The first ever Tribal National Park, where you can explore a variety of trails which all lead to the shores of Gichigami. (Lake Superior) Next stop would have to be Raspberry Bay a Tribal Members Only camp ground where the Ojibwe hold camps throughout the summer. camps such as, Language Camp, Wolf Camp (A survival camp for the youth) It has a huge meeting area under white pines. A lot of medicines grow out there and there are many trails that also lead to a big sand beach where you can see a few of the Apostle Islands in the back round. we would talk history/culture/music of The Anishinaabe/Ojibwe/Chippewa peoples.
In July we hold our annual Powwow where we have traditional and social dancing. A great way to get to know the Indigenous peoples of Lake Superior. Tribal nations from all over Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and even Canada and beyond attend these social gatherings showing their support for the culture and language as well as sharing their own style of dance and stories.
Red Cliff also owns and operates its own fish company buying fresh fish straight from the local fisherman. They not only serve an assortment of fresh fish like Lake Superior White Fish and Trout, them also have smoked fish using their very own recipes, their smoked fish dip is a must try.
The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa also owns and operates the Legendary Resort and Casino offering a legendary view of Lake Superior, not only offering gambling, but a sports bar and grill. Where one can enjoy a good meal with daily specials available. Using local and seasonal ingredients. The casino has historical displays of its people as well, where you can learn how Red Cliff came to be. Weary visitors can either stay at the resort or camp in the Buffalo Bay campgrounds located right next to the casino. There are a few local kayaking outfits that you can book and explore old ship wrecks, the Red Cliffs, or the famous Apostle Islands sea caves. A truly unique experience for any traveler and a gate way into the Apostle Islands.
After a Red Cliff Reservation tour, we would go to Bayfield and catch the Madeline ferry boat to visit the one of the Apostle Islands (There’s 22 in all) and Spiritual homeland of The Anishinaabe peoples, Mooniingwanekaaning (Madeline Island) I is said that The Anishinaabe people migrated from the east following dreams of prophecy to “where the food grows upon the water” many believe to be wild rice. Arriving between 1500, and 2,000 years ago the Ojibwe have called Madeline Island home for countless generations. Having first contact in 1620 The Anishinaabe ways of life started to change. With the introduction of new technologies like traps and muskets, life for The Anishinaabe would never be the same again. After first contact we would enter 200 years of the fur trade. All these things can be learned at the Madeline Island museum. Having historical time pieces on display they give us an idea of what life was like for the original peoples of the Apostle Islands. There is also an old Indian burial grounds that has some very old and ceremonial sites that is worth a visit.
The beautiful Island has many beautiful places and sacred places to visit. Big Bay state park is one, the view of the lake is incredible! There are cliffs that you can jump off and swim in the Great Lake. Further down the shore we have the Lagoon that is a favorite place to stop and get some more water time in, oh yeah and these also a camp ground here as well.
The Madeline Island experience has it all. There’s scooter rentals if you wanted to explore the whole island, Madeline is the biggest of the Apostle Island at 12 miles long and 26 miles of shore line. It has shops from local artist, bay that give that tropical vacation feel. Restaurants that feature local ingredients. Charter boats for those wishing to see more of Lake Superior and the Islands. There’s never a dull moment on Madeline Island, just be sure to catch the last Ferry boat back to the main land or you could find yourself between a rock and an island.
The Madeline Island Ferry boat would then take us back to Bayfield Wisconsin that has its magic all of its own. But that’s another story for another time.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There have been many people who have helped shape what I have become so far in this life. If I were to say there’s been one who has influenced me that would have to my teacher and Ojibwe story teller Dolores “Dee” Bainbridge. I had the honor of having her as a teacher from head start all the way through high school graduation. She would tell us stories that would shape my outlook on life. Moral Ojibwe stories about how we should treat each other. Stories about not taking that which does not belong to us, stories about how we should respect the animals who have giving us much so that we may survive. She educated me in Ojibwe history, artwork, culture, and even some plant medicine. All of which I use in everyday life. When I was upset she would comfort me, and show me kindness. Looking back I see that it was a great honor for me to have her as a teacher. She was at the for front of a movement to help reclaim the Ojibwe culture. Teaching us from homemade Ojibwe Language worksheets and pamphlets. She used a variety of technics one of my favorites was Ojibwe bingo. On homemade bingo board there would be animals, she would say the name in Ojibwe and follow in up with a hint like, Makwa, Makwa, then she would give us a hint. “Is sometimes called Smokey” Oh Smokey the Bear, Bingo! and for every bingo we would win a little cup of popped wild rice with a little bit of salt. Of course we all would have a taste of the popped wild rice, we were all winners in the eyes of Dee Bainbridge.
Other: newmusiccreatorfund.com I received a grant from “new music creators fund” to help with a up coming album project to help cover the cost. The album will feature Native American Flute music, Cello, Piano, Guitar, Percussion, Komungo, and poetry. This is a collaborative experience with musicians from all over the states California, New York, and even one contributor from South Korea. Title is still in the works. An Organic blend of different musicians, artists, influences and cultures.