Eulogy for James F. Frechette

Prepared and presented by Edward Marks,
Friend of Jim and Curator at the Musuem of Natural History 
on October 11, 2006 at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church
Neopit, Wisconsin


I am honored that I was asked to give this eulogy and am encouraged by Jim’s words to step forward, use the information he has given me and do the best I can.   – I represent Museum o Natural History, College of Letters and Science, University of Wisconsin Stevens Point.


There is one thing I need to get out of the way before I go on.  That is, Jim and his sense of humor.  It was time for humor if things were getting too serious.

Here are some of the things we laughed about.  If you don’t think some of these things aren’t funny, then you had to be there. 

  • The doctors said, no lifting. We agreed he finally had an excuse for not doing his fair share of the work. 
  • Meetings - Jim ate one plain donut, it was probably true that his family members ate plain donuts, therefore all Menominees ate plain donuts.
  • When he brought in a new clan figure, I had trouble releasing the check (for payment of the figures) and he wouldn’t let go of the carving. We tugged back and forth. 
  • That he wasn’t ill at all and just wanted the attention.
  • That he and I were extremely good looking.
  • On the matter of he being an excellent carver and artist:  He said he was a maker of toothpicks, I agreed, saying he was an overall sad case. 
  • I would now like to say that I had the good fortune of working with Jim for seven years.  Jim would prefer if I said I had the Misfortune of working with Jim for seven years. 

How we met

  • We first met in 1986 or 87 – I saw some of his figures in an art show at UWSP.  I wondered why his carved figures were carved half human, half animal. 
  • In 1989 I went to his house with a group of University people and saw his garage which was turned into a summer shop.  He had masking tape on floor outlining a possible future exhibit plan for the clans figures. Joan made us a nice lunch of sloppy Joes and cookies.
  • Until 1997 I seldom saw him; except when he borrowed a hammer or something else.  He still owes me a quarter. 


  • The origin exhibit consists of two carved figures.  The Great Light-Colored Bear calls the Golden Eagle to be his brother.  
  • Jim has carved 26 Menominee clan figures that are permanently on exhibit in the Library at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point.
  • The clans figures are set on a rock out cropping near the Menominee River. 
  • A white pine forest, a shallow lake of wild rice and Green Bay are painted in the background. 
  • An enormous white pine towers over the land across the Bay. 
  • (Hold up two brochures) “Menominee Origin Story” and “Gathering of the Menominee Clans”; These brochures are available to you at the back of the church. Each describes the Menominee Clans Story exhibit.
  • A kiosk in front of the exhibit tells the Menominee Clans Story on a computer.  The Menominee Clans Story is on the World Wide Web.
  • The Menominee Clans Story website is being upgraded. New photos, stories relating to clans, clan names in Menominee, and flute music are being added.
  • Jim valued UWSP.  He saw opportunity and possibilities.
  • In 1994 Jim carved a 4’ tall Menominee figure to commemorate UWSP’s Centennial.  With outstretched arms, the traditional Menominee faces east singing the Menominee Morning Song.  A label reads:  In greeting the sunrise, we traditionally give honor to yesterday, acknowledge our present being and dedicate ourselves to the challenges of the new day.
  • (Upcoming Constuction) We will soon be exhibiting 11 paintings painted by George Catlin in the 1830’s.  The Smithsonian owns the originals; these are museum-quality reproductions made of canvas and oil paint. These portraits depict the Menominee as they appeared at the time.  Clans will be identified wherever possible.  These portraits connect with the carved Menominee Clans exhibit situated just across the lobby in the Library.

Back to 1998

  • The University admininstratively moved the Menominee Clans Project to the Museum of Natural History Fall, College of Letters and Science, in the fall of 1998.  The University needed to comply with NAGPRA and also found a home for the Menominee Clans Project.  The Museum cares for the Menominee Clans figures and other Native American collections on campus. 
  • As a curator it is my job to document information about any collection I work with.  In January 1999, I with my wife Margaret, daughter Amy and son Dan interviewed Jim on video tape for three hours. Margaret and Amy prepared sloppy joes and cookies for lunch..    

Things I learned from Jim in that video.

  • He spoke about an exhibition of Native American things he attended in Madison.

Objects, including a drum, were presented in a bare environment not connected to the life of the community.  The drum should never touch ground. There is a drum protocol.  A drum is handled, cared for and used accordingly. Play it, do not beat it; the drum has a voice.

  • The clans were organized in a clan structure.  The clan carvings are artifacts used to tell long story.
  • We can only learn Menominee mythology through stories and ceremonies.  Mythology must be involved in story.  Jim said regarding certain stories, “I am not empowered to pass those on to you.”  But I can give a lot so you get a feeling and part of an understanding.
  • Stevens Point is in the Menominee homeland; Stevens Point is in Menominee country.  Some stories took place a short distance from Stevens Point. The first lacrosse ball was given and the first lacrosse stick was made in the Waupaca area.
  • The origin story took place at Marionette/Menominee at the mouth of Village River.
  • Clan system defined obligations; families had obligations.  The clan system was the basis of a functioning community or culture.
  • Menominee government functioned like an upside-down triangle. Today government works from top down; the Menominee system was just the opposite. Clans chose a speaker; but the speaker had no power. Menominee had speakers, not chiefs. 
  • The speaker goes back to origin story.


Jim’s words

I want to close this eulogy with selections of the 1999 videotape. The videotape was transcribed; so these are his actual words. 

This part is in response to a question regarding “The Origin Story”; Jim is speaking:
. . . You’ve got to remember the story is going to be the shortened version .  . .  We won’t be here long enough today; this is the first chapter actually.  [Mr. Frechette brought out several clans carvings and made references to them as he told the origin story]. ]
Long ago before there was anybody, any people, the Great Master Spirit went through the whole process of putting together all those things that make up the world.  But when the world was finished, or essentially finished, . . . the only thing that was on the world at the time was spirits or spirit forms.  These were generally two kinds of spirits.  One was the kind that lived above the ground and these were mostly oh, what we call birds today.   But they were spirit forms.  The other type was called underground spirits.  These were the bears, the wolves, coyotes, squirrels.
Well, Maec-Awaetok decided it was time to put people in this world.  And so, he talked to the underground spirits and had them send up a representative.  And so one day on the shores of the Village River near Green Bay, the spirit of the Great Light-Colored Bear emerged from the ground, came in the sunlight, and stood on the shore of the river there. And he looked around and started to see what was in this new world so he started traveling around.  And the longer he was there, the more he traveled around, the more he began to realize that he was alone.  There was no one else.  So he traveled some more. 
Finally one day he started talking to Maec-Awaetok and told him he wanted to change himself and he wanted to be something else. And so he says, all right, you choose what you want and I’ll allow you to change; I’ll give you the power to do that.  So he said well I know what I want to be, I know what I want to change to; I want to do that now.  So Maec-Awaetok said O.K.  I’ll give you the power to change to whatever you want.  He said I want to change into a man.  So he went through this process of changing Great Light-Colored Bear into a man. He changed and he became the first Menominee.
The second brother.
And then he started to go on a journey and his journey was up the Village River.  And he traveled along and as he went along he got to know the country and explored around and kind of enjoyed himself until this feeling came back to him that he was alone.  There was no one else there.  And as he walked along, he was looking down and saw this shadow.  And he looked up and over his head this great Golden Eagle was circling over.  And so, the Bear called the Golden Eagle and said “Come down.   Be my brother.”  And so the Golden Eagle came down.  He landed.  He changed into a man.  And then the Bear adopted him as his brother.  And then the two of them continued the journey on up the river. 

Jim had this to say regarding Clan relationships and obligations:
And so basically we have here the organization and evolution of the Menominee people.  The process is one of adoption where the various spirits that are encountered are adopted as brothers.  But the way in which these all relate to each other is defined in that each has a role to play. And each is given what we call an obligation.  This is something that you perform without question for the whole community.  It generally comes out as a role that is played by the family and is essentially the wellspring for that particular type of skill, knowledge, or expertise that would now be available to all the people.  But they are essentially the keepers of that particular thing that is needed by the community.” 

This is the final excerpt I shall read.  It deals with the purpose of the Menominee Clans exhibition and how it might affect children. 
“Jim, this leads me to what will be my last question here.  And that is with the Menominee clans exhibition, we’re laying down a lot of these stories so that we can somehow relate to them in the future as a reference for other people . . .  What might we try to do for Menominee kids who come through here and also kids who are not Menominee of all different cultures, races, and nationalities.  What is our main message to them, the children?”

Jim responded,   “Well if you force me into one answer, I’ll tell you what it is very simply.  I think if you can get those children to understand that they are part of culture.  I don’t care where they come from.  They’re part of a culture.  And if they live that culture, preserve that culture, that’ll provide them with road map of where they can go in the future.  All through my life I’ve continually gone back to mythology, Menominee mythology, and find that a lot of what I am looking for is right there.   That gave me the help I needed to decide which direction to go. 
You know the Morning Song out here in the lobby I think plays an important part in my life in a sense that I grew up with a generation that practiced that everyday.  That put me in a position of essentially practicing the same thing.  When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is I say, “O.K., who am I?”  And then I’ve got to answer that question.  And when you think about that question, it isn’t a simple answer, “I’m Jim”.  That’s not the answer.  Who you are is not what your name is, you see.  Because who you are, is what’s in here [both fingers pointing to heart].  And who you are is where you come from.  And where you come from is not a location.  But it’s a state of being, you see.