Our Mission is: "To continue the over 100-year presence of family heritage, culture and rich human tradition on Isle Royale; to assure the preservation of historic family dwellings; to enhance the experience of NPS staff and Park visitors by serving as authentic links to Isle Royale's rich human history."

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IRFFA Meets with NPS in Chicago

By. David C. Barnum

Meeting at the National Trust Offices in Chicago

 Built upon on the successful IRFFA 2007 Winter gathering in Duluth a follow up meeting occurred in Chicago on May 11th. In attendance from IRFFA were Missy McDonald (Edwards Island), Ellie Connolly (Tobin Harbor), Stu Sivertson (Washington Island), and myself (Barnum Island). From the NPS were Superintendent Phyllis Green,  Regional Historian Don Stevens, Chief of Cultural Resources Liz Valencia.  From the National Trust, Midwest Director Royce Yeater, and Field Officer Genell Scheurell.  Finally Dr. Phil Scarpino, from Indiana University rounded out the group. 

There were two parts to the meeting. The first part was focused on the Context Study that is being done for NPS by Dr. Scarpino. Funding is being provided by the National Trust and NPS. IRFFA set the agenda in advance by asking the following questions about the study:

1.  Describe the purpose and goals of the study.
2. Will there be oral histories?  Who will be interviewed?
3. How will the logistics work?

As to question # 1, Dr. Scarpino told us he views the entire island as an inter-related collection of cultural resources.  He does not plan to evaluate individual buildings, nor will he attempt to analyze buildings in comparison to each other.  There might be subsets within the collection, but he did not have to be convinced that the larger cultural landscape and related human activity and stories are where the fundamental value of the resources lie.  Dr. Scarpino mentioned that the whole island might qualify for National Historic Landmark status.  Superintendent Green indicated that some of this was impractical from a management standpoint and that she wanted to eventually make a priority list.  The concept of doing a comparative study of the resources was objected to by the Trust and IRFFA. IRFFA was very satisfied with Dr. Scarpino’s concept of how this study should be conducted. Over all we felt that this was  a step forward in getting NPS to understanding the value of cultural resources on the island.

Next we discussed oral histories. Dr. Scarpino indicated that he probably couldn’t do more than five. He stated that it would take a great deal of time to prepare for these histories; each history would take about 2 hours per person. Phyllis asked each person in the room who they would choose for these histories. Some of the names mentioned were, Grant Merritt, Stu Sivertson, Clara Sivertson, Howard Sivertson, Jim Anderson, Pat Johns,  Laurie Snell, Lou Mattson, and Betty Strom, along with some others. IRFFA will have a say in who is interviewed, and IRFFA would like suggestions from members. It is important to understand that IRFFA’s position is that every family should have an oral history done, and that this process is only one part of a larger effort toward the cultural preservation of resources on Isle Royale.

Finally, we discussed the logistics of Dr. Scarpino’s visit. It was suggested by IRFFA that Dr. Scarpino come to the island via Grand Portage on the 19th of July. I have to provide transportation from Portage to Washington Harbor where he can spend the 19th and 20th. On the 21st I would take him down to Belle Isle for the IRFFA 2007 summer meeting. The next day, I would drop him off in Tobin Harbor where he would spend a day or two. After that he will be spending on Mott Island working with NPS on his project. He would also be doing follow up visits with the families with transportation provided by NPS.


After lunch we began the second portion of the meeting, attended by all the previous people. This part was designed to continue the dialog between NPS and IRFFA regarding two primary issues. One, the establishment of a long term agreement and preservation partnership between IRFFA and NPS. Second, the status of the Cultural Resource Management Plan which has been on the back burner for many years.

The first thing we wanted to know was whether NPS considers our families “traditionally associated people”. This is a term used by NPS in their policy manual. By our reading of the NPS definition we clearly are. However, Phyllis, Don and Liz indicated that research would have to be done, possibly through an ethnologist to make this determination. IRFFA believes that it is important that NPS acknowledge our families as traditionally associated because it then requires a higher level of consultation between IRFFA and NPS. Further, we believe that this status would improve our chances of establishing a productive agreement with NPS.

A great deal of time was spent discussing the planning process that NPS is just now starting. Dr. Scarpino’s report will be just one part of this process. Royce cited Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act which allows for consulting parties to be part of the process.  He stated that we should be part of the process.  Phyllis indicated that she thought we could participate like any other “interest” group at public forums. In other words our families would have no greater sway on the preservation of cultural resources than a one time visitor.  Royce indicated that he believed that federal law allowed us as to participate in the planning as well as the public process. This question was not resolved at the meeting.

Phyllis stated that she had “ears in many congressional offices”.  She believes that our efforts on the legislative front are in conflict with the public interest. This was disputed in by Missy McDonald, who stated that we had been attempting for many years to work out an agreement with NPS that would result in the preservation of cultural resources with out much progress. Royce interjected that “the enemy of a fragile cultural resource is ambiguity”. In other words the lack of action on the part of NPS is putting these cultural resources at risk. At this point in the discussion, Phyllis put forward the offer of a formalized partnership between IRFFA and NPS that would take into consideration the concerns of our members. Obviously at the top of our concerns is having the ability to continue our activities on the island in a dignified manner. Our members also understand that any agreement between IRFFA and NPS that allows us to stay on at the island may require our families to participate in a more formal way with the public and NPS so that the tan ngible public benefit we bring to the island is clear for all to see.

Our meeting ended around 1:30pm. We agreed to meet again on June 14th in Duluth to talk more about the partnership agreement. We have clearly reached a crucial time in our relationship with NPS. The next several months may determine whether or not we will ever reach the goals that we established in 2001. The support of families and friends is now more important then ever. Hopefully every family will participate fully in our efforts this summer.

NPS Oral History Collection

By David C. Barnum

I received from Liz Valencia, Isle Royale Chief of Cultural Resources and Interpretation, as list of 95 Oral Histories that were done between 1965-1994. Some of the names on the list are Edgar Johns, Ed & Ingeborg Holte, Pete Edison, Milford and Myrtle Johnson, Glenn Merritt, Sam and Elaine Rude, Westy Farmer, Wayne and Marge McPherren, Ruben Hill, Stanley Sivertson, and John Skadberg. Many of the others are former NPS rangers, Coast Guard and lighthouse folks.  

One of the reasons this list was available to me at this time is to help us to put forward names for Dr. Scarpino to interview this summer. Any suggestions that members have will be greatly appreciated. Dr. Scarpino indicated that he would be interviewing about 5 family members.

It is not clear what the quality and the content of these histories are. I believe that one area that IRFFA can be very helpful to NPS and the public is to take it upon ourselves to help ensure the tapes are cataloged and preserved. Perhaps much of it could be made available to the public via the internet. I plan to discuss strategies with Liz about what we can do with this material to increase its value to Isle Royale. I know many of our members will be anxious to hear some of these tapes. I will keep everyone advised as to the status of these oral histories.ō


IRFFA Summer Meeting July 21st on Belle Isle

2007 Summer Meeting at Belle Isle

The Isle Royale Families and Friends Association (IRFFA) will be holding its 6th summer meeting on Belle Isle on July 21st. We plan to begin the meeting at 3pm EDT. Following our meeting we will be gathering on Johnson Island for a dinner hosted by the Andersons. We will be joined by Dr. Phil Scarpino who is heading up the Context Study. This will be a great opportunity to meet him and discuss his study.

As always logistics are challenging. To date, we have been successful in our 5 other island meetings. The key is in knowing who plans to come and who can help with food, transport, and other logistics. We hope to accommodate about 40 people at our gathering.


IIRNHA 2007 Members Meeting on Isle Royale
Sunday, July 29
**2:00pm - 3:00pm ~ Annual Membership Meeting, Rock Harbor Auditorium
3:30pm - 4:45pm ~ Membership Program to be announced, Rock Harbor Auditorium
**5:00pm ~ Membership Picnic whitefish & brats on the Rock Harbor Waterfront. $12 for adults, $6 for children.
**These events for IRNHA members only.
Times & events subject to changes. Please check here or Rock Harbor Visitor Center Bulletin Board for updated information.
2007 Members' Service Trip on Isle Royale ~ July 20 to July 28, 2007

Great Lakes Cruising Club
For only the second time in over 70 years this venerable organization will be holding its annual Rendezvous on Lake Superior July 15th-July 18th.



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Last modified: June 28, 2007