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home : letters : letters April 29, 2016

12/7/2012 11:01:00 AM
This great man will be missed by the world

To the Editor:

The Northwoods – no, the world – has just lost an incredible man. Nick Hockings, Ojibwe cultural consultant and ambassador of humanity, died Saturday, Dec. 1, of cancer at his home. His family was there when Nick walked into eternity.

I will always wonder why those who still have more to give are taken so soon. As the widow of Randy, a vibrant, community-minded and beloved man, I come easily to that thought. Yet there is comfort thinking both men now know the answer to the greatest secret there is.

We had the privilege of knowing Nick for 15 years. We first met this gifted man and his wife, Charlotte, at a gathering during which the two talked about and demonstrated Ojibwe customs. Nick and Charlotte were in full regalia of their native dance costumes, and with insight, humor and more than a touch of spirituality, held the group spellbound. They even tried to teach us to dance.

This duo touched us deeply. Randy and I invited Nick, traditional pipe carrier and certified teacher of the Ojibwe language and culture, and Charlotte, his equally gifted life partner, to our home a number of times to present their culture and experiences to friends. 

Our guests will never forget the amazing rush of wind that swirled outside the house immediately after Nick performed the pipe ceremony. Nor will they forget the same whirling gusts that followed their car out the driveway. It made us all wonder: Who is this man?

There are hints that his early life was tumultuous, but it is his mid and later years that are the true measure. With Charlotte by his side, he fulfilled a dream in 1998 by building Waswagoning, a fascinating, hands-on, 17th century replica of a traditional Ojibwe village, just outside Lac du Flambeau. Open to the public, it has become a teaching center for students from pre-school through Ph.D. candidates. 

For years Nick traveled to schools throughout the Great Lakes region, teaching kids the rich heritage of native peoples. He started a dance troupe, Waswagoning Dance Theater, which performed annually at Eagle River’s Klondike Days, and on many other stages around the Midwest, notably the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

Nick was the lead dancer in another drum and dance group, Call for Peace, which danced on a global scale in Russia, Germany, Egypt, Puerto Rico, France, and Rome. In that city, the troupe dazzled the Nobel Peace Laureates with costumes enhanced with bright feathers and jingling bells, whirling to the pulsating rhythms of traditional drums. 

He was instrumental in the recent revival of the Indian Bowl powwows in Lac du Flambeau, a huge draw for summer visitors.

More giftedness: In 2002, Nick and Charlotte won two Emmys for artistic direction in Waassa Inaabidaa (We Look in All Directions), an Ojibwe documentary. Much of it was filmed on the Waswagoning site, and aired on PBS. 

Nick was an exceptional artist. He was an eloquent speaker, tireless worker, steely-minded source of restorative justice, promoter of peace, seeker of truth, friend to many, and devoted husband, loving father and cherished grandfather. 

He was our good friend. Simply, I will miss him.  

Michele Bergstrom
Eagle River

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, December 7, 2012
Article comment by: Teresa Ortberg

Thank You Michelle, what a great article in tribute to a great man. I had the privilege of spending several springtimes at Wa-Swa-Goning and cherish every one of them. Nick was a mentor, teacher and friend who taught me more than I ever hoped to learn and he gave me my name. I am truly blessed to have had him in my life. Thanks again. ozhaawashko-bineshiinh

Posted: Friday, December 7, 2012
Article comment by: Anne Johnson

Thank you for the beautiful letter. Nick's presence in the Lakeland community and beyond will be missed by so many of us!

Posted: Friday, December 7, 2012
Article comment by: Clifford Knapp

I had the privilege of knowing Nick Hockings for 17 years. He was truly a wonder -- full of energy, vision, humility, spirituality, and knowledge of Ojibwe culture and humanity. He had more creative talent in his little finger, than most people have in their entire body. I enjoyed working along side of him on the many projects involved in his reconstructed village, Waswagoning. I will miss doing that, but will hold his memory forever.

Posted: Friday, December 7, 2012
Article comment by: Galway McCullough

Thank you, Michelle, for writing this. The departed of whom you write was indeed a treasure for all who were lucky enough to have him in their lives. He will be deeply missed in Wisconsin and here in Brooklyn as well! Helping in the creation of Wa-Swa-Goning is perhaps the single greatest thing I've done so far in my almost 42 years...

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