Petersburg's Little Norway Festival: All are 'Velkommen'
As Jeff and Kristi Wilcheck of Anchorage arrived in Petersburg this past weekend, they received an unexpected welcome.
âWhen I was getting off the plane, there were Vikings in fur costumes greeting us and Alaska Natives playing drums,â Kristi said. âIt was so cool.â
Born in Anchorage during the 1960s, Kristi was one in a family of 13 living in a little log cabin on a dirt road. Petersburgâs Little Norway Festival reminded her of this time in her life because of its intimate âsmall town feel.â
2018 marks the 60th year for the Little Norway Festival, which honors the historic moment when the people of Norway drafted and signed their own constitution in 1814 as a testament to the Norwegian independence movement. Sara Aronson, a former Juneau resident now residing in Montana, put the festival simply: â(Itâs) the Fourth of Ju ly celebration times four here.â
The 3000 or so residents of Petersburg receive at least 400 visitors who come just to attend the Little Norway Festival on the third weekend in May, said Mara Lutomski of the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. The daily sales tax income of $15,000 can double on the three main days of the festival, generating an additional $45,000 for the town.
âOverall we think âoh itâs fun and important to continue thinking about our heritage and Norwegian roots,â but really itâs an anchor for our town,â Lutomski said. âThere are a lot of opportunities to earn money to help keep things going in your community when you have festivals like this.â
The Little Norway Festival does supplement the income generated from the townâs bread and butter commercial fishing industry but the festival is also the communityâs way of extending an invitation to folks who have always wanted to visit but were unsure of when exactly to ar rive. Petersburg matriarch Roxane Lee shared that it was actually an outsider who started the event by noticing the townâs potential to draw tourists in on the grounds of heritage.
âThe way (Little Norway) really, really started â" and I donât know if many people know this â" but there was a fellow from Juneau by the name of Dutch Duerr and he came down to one of our Chamber of Commerce meetings, and they were talking about tourism in Petersburg and Dutch said âyou have so many things going here, you got this thriving Norwegian community and the Tlingit Indians â" why donât you do something about maybe having some sort of spring festival?â and that got a few folks talking,â Lee said.
The first festival was hosted in 1958 and the subsequent festivals that followed had a community smÃ¶rgÃ¥sbord meal as the main event. Sixty years later, attendees have to make some pretty tough decisions on which activities to enjoy because one simply cannot do th em all â" especially if they get kidnapped by a Viking or Valkyrie. The townâs local newspaper, the Petersburg Pilot, had a two page spread this year detailing more than 50 events that spanned from watching the âLive Norwegian Sweater Modeling and Dale of Norway Trunk Show,â eating Norwegian pastries at the Kaffe Haus, attending the unveiling of Tommy Josephâs Storytellers Pole, watching the festival parade, tossing sil (âherringâ), and enjoying a traditional meatball dinner. On Saturday night however, there were no other competing events as Ray Troll and the Ratfish Wranglers took to the stage at the Sons of Norway Hall and rocked the audience with songs like âShake that Halibut.â
A Petersburg resident of one year, Malcolm Darden pointed out that Little Norway gives the community something, and someone else, to talk about.
âA lot of people come from all over to see the festivities, like the ambassador of Norway and legislators, and itâs go od for the tourists as well as the locals â" we get tired of seeing each other because we live on an island,â Darden laughed.
Although joking, Darden has a point similar to that of Dutch Duerr. Little Norway is a means for locals to become tight knit in the generational traditions of Petersburg but it is only by sharing such traditions with others that the cultural awareness continues. This was a take-away from the Little Norway Festival Pageant event hosted on Saturday. The Pageant is an opportunity to witness youth dance in traditional clothing and learn more about Petersburgâs history. With a name like âLittle Norway Festival,â it is easy to assume the entire event honors only Scandinavian culture, so when the Du Kusteeyi Yaki Dancers of the Juneau Auke Bay School entered the gymnasium to dance at the Pageant as well, their presence acknowledged that Alaska Native tradition and history that has presided over the land since time immemorial and thrives to this d ay.
Back in her living room off Mitkof Highway, Roxane Lee said the Little Norway Festival is open for all who wish to participate and the same can be said about the town of Petersburg.
âOne year, but it wasnât a part of the festival, we had a potlatch in town and Renel Beardslee asked me if I would get together with quite a few people in town to see how many different cultures were represented in Petersburg,â Lee said. âI believe we had 17 different peoples that wore their (traditional clothing) to the Assembly up at the high school gymnasium and it was amazing to see how many different countries are represented in our town that most of us didnât know about.â
Roxane shared that at the Assembly meeting, people were dumbfounded to find out that community members they knew were from countries like Colombia and Thailand.
âPeople kind of said âoh yeah different people live hereâ but they had never seen all the traditional cos tumes of their countries,â Lee said.
The Little Norway Festival portrayed most prominently Scandinavian culture because the event is celebrating Norwegian independence but it also gives the town a chance to honor the different groups that now comprise modern-day Petersburg. Visitors at the festival immediately noticed how incredible the cultural heritage at the event is, with an out-of-towner even noting the presence of the LGBTQ community marching in Fridayâs parade. When asked what the townâs founder, Norwegian fisherman Peter Buschmann, would think of Petersburg today, Buschmannâs great-great granddaughter Ilene Belvin Garland speculated that he would be delighted to see that the town has flourished while her husband Dave threw in a little bit of humor.
âWhat would he say about Petersburg today? He would say âitâs too easy, you boys donât know how to work, you donât have to row, you donât have to cut the ice,ââ Dave said in an attempt ed Norwegian accent.
Fishing is not the only thing that has gotten easier in Petersburg as this town, founded by Norwegian immigrants, continues to welcome people not just to visit during the Little Norway Festival, but to be themselves and honor their own traditions and culture with a sense of pride. Petersburg is âthe town that fish builtâ as well as the town that visitors built, too. The 2019 Little Norway Festival will be May 16-19. If you have never been, this is your invitation. Maybe youâll even stay.
â¢ Ray Friedlander is a freelance writer living in Juneau.Source: Google News Norway | Netizen 24 Norway