Coffee House Series features Anishinaabe storyteller

Nolan Krebs

In conjunction with Native American Heritage Month, the Beaumier Upper Peninsula Heritage Center’s Coffee House Series will feature Anishinaabe musician Bobby Bullet on Saturday, Nov. 3.

Bullet, who was born on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation in Wisconsin, has been writing and performing music for more than 50 years.

His work, Bullet said, is rooted in the bringing together the two worlds that he grew up in.

“I told a medicine man a long time ago, in the ’70s, that I felt I was a bridge between native culture and European culture,” Bullet said. “That was my calling in life, to bridge that gap to a higher understanding on both sides.”

Bullet began writing during his time in the military. He was stationed in Germany from 1960 to 1963, and around this time he began to seek out the roots of his heritage.

“When I started finding out what happened to the native spirituality is when my writing started full blast,” Bullet said. “I was on a journey to discover who I was, so I started writing songs about our people.”

He played with a number of bands and found influences in writers like Hank Williams and Kris Kristofferson and their ability to tell a story in only a few minutes, Bullet said. Later, he began studying the traditions and beliefs of the Anishinaabe people and incorporating it into his music.

The concept of balancing two different worlds is prevalent in Anishinaabe culture, said Center for Native American Studies director April Lindala.

“I have been fortunate to meet and listen to many Anishinaabe culture bearers and storytellers from this region and nearly all of them talking about this idea of walking in two worlds,” Lindala said. “For some Anishinaabe people, one of those worlds, the Anishinaabe world, was somewhat or completely erased due to federal policies of eradication and assimilation.”

This makes the issue of identity extremely complex, Lindala said, and attempting to exist in both worlds is very challenging.

Educating people about native culture can also be a huge struggle, and there’s more to it than putting people in a category, Bullet said.

“Many times I’ve been asked to go into schools and talk about Indians and pilgrims, but a lot of times I refused to do that,” Bullet said. “But other times, I took up the cause to educate people and maybe wag a finger to say, ‘We should be recognized all year, not just for a few weeks.’”

The tradition of storytelling, orally or through music, is an engaging way to educate people, Lindala said, and can bring to light many important social, political or ethical issues.

“This style of message sharing serves as a nonthreatening way to include activist messages,” Lindala said. “It can also serve as a model for others who wish to convey their messages in a multimedia world.”

While he’s seen progress in educating people young and old, there’s still a long way to go, Bullet said.

“We live in the times now where we have to start recognizing each other as human beings, because there’s a great change coming,” Bullet said. “We don’t have time to bicker; we need to come together to survive.”

The concert begins at 7 p.m. in the Peter White Lounge at the University Center and is free to the public.

For more information on the concert, call the Center for Native American Studies at (906) 227-1397 or email [email protected].