Wicīwen Apīs-Mahwaew: Menominee Expressions of Ethnicity

The eclipse was at hand as Lawrence University’s guest artist Wade Fernandez arrived on campus for the Expressions of Ethnicity seminar, where he opened his speech in Menominee, saying “posoh” (greetings) to students and introducing himself with his “Americana name” followed by his Menominee name, Wicīwen Apīs-Mahwaew (Walks with the Black Wolf). His words evoked a message of healing and revitalization, as he said that the Menominee language is something being “brought back.” He later stated: “We thought that the language would become extinct, and now we have an immersion school that starts at the 3rd grade,” though he asserts that more effort and support is needed, as Menominee is “rarely a first language” for many. 

During the seminar, Wade Fernandez/Wicīwen Apīs-Mahwaew spoke quietly, yet his words resonated. During our interview, his eyes looked away shyly on occasion, often lost in thought as he contemplated his words. He would later state that he was very self-conscious, saying: “it took me a long time to work through, but I realize that everybody has those same feelings. It is just showing up and giving everything you can to make other things sit at the side and not be so loud and overpower you. I try to be in the moment, because if I am not in the moment, I think about what I did not do or what I cannot do or do not have. The reason I am here is for the moment.” 

This mindset he carries  throughout his life as an artist has assisted with his tours internationally, as he recounts the stress of going abroad. Chuckling, he remembers a time he lost his bag on the platform of a train station in Eastern Germany. Regarding his feeling of panic over losing all his music equipment, he stated that “nobody in that part could speak English, and I had to ride to the train station back.” He simply stood there staring out into the trees as he appreciated the beauty of the natural world around him. Luckily, there were two German ladies who explained to him in broken English that an officer had his bag. Fernandez states that “wherever you are, that is where you need to be. What can you learn from it, if you are in the moment?” He takes this same approach in his artistry, as he does not plan performances specifically in detail, opting for musical improvisation. 

I later asked him his ideal venue to play at, to which he responded directly: “just anywhere that’s open to share with, I guess […] Anywhere, it doesn’t matter the size; it could be one person.” Fernandez/Wicīwen Apīs-Mahwaew performed that evening after an introduction by professors Karen Hoffman and Sarah Gamalinda. During Fernandez’s performance, Hoffman took time to commemorate his twentieth anniversary as guest artist for the 2024 Expressions of Ethnicity seminar, humorously claiming that the eclipse marked the occasion. 

Expressing his admiration for his family, Fernandez invited his son, Quintin Fernandez, on stage to play throughout the evening and his other son, Blaize Fernandez, during the last song. Both are students at Lawrence University.

 “I really enjoy playing music with other people, as it’s a beautiful experience, and it does not matter if they know a lot on their instrument; what matters is that we are both open to sharing, because there is medicine that comes from every type of music and level,” Fernandez shared.  

Still, Fernandez is not immune to the intimidation of performing, as he recounts a previous time during one performance: “there was a musician from Russia — I believe he was the musical director for the Berlin opera house — and he was in the audience in a small concert in Europe.” Fernandez disclosed that he was so nervous to perform in front of someone who he considered to be a “virtuoso” in the musical field, but finished that “he came up after the concert to me and had tears in his eyes […] It does not matter how we look at other people; it is not about being better as it’s about being ourselves.” 

This emphasis upon connection and recognition became obvious throughout his address, as he invoked and acknowledged the connection within human relations. He 

stated, “it’s important that you are here, and it is for a reason, as it is our responsibility to share that beauty within us with each other. And if we make that our priority, then everything gets easier in life.” 

He claimed that all “self-feeding behaviors” would dissipate in this act of treating music as a “connective experience.” 

It is here that one understands the communal experience of music, as Fernandez states that he is a participant as much as the audience. Relaying his thoughts on teaching, he declared, “I am born a teacher and student as much as everyone else in this room.” Likewise, this is applied to the performer and the audience, as each facilitates this communal experience in hopes to create a rare experience that is only felt when consuming great art that is tethered to an astronomical “anomaly” of an eclipse. These great presences create something new. As professors Hoffman and Gamalinda shared, Lawrence University also awaits Fernandez/ Wicīwen Apīs-Mahwaew’s twenty-first arrival on campus in the future.