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Bemidji festival showcases diversity

A mostly sunny sky and a slight breeze graced the waterfront Friday afternoon as the Cultural Connections Festival, an event that embraces diversity, took place at the waterfront in Bemidji.

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More than 30 international students from Bemidji State University joined in the activities of the Cultural Connections Friday evening. Volunteer Matthew Roy, left, demonstrates different canoe strokes. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

A mostly sunny sky and a slight breeze graced the waterfront Friday afternoon as the Cultural Connections Festival, an event that embraces diversity, took place at the waterfront in Bemidji.

"It's a great way for people to get out and find out about other cultures," said volunteer Keenan Goodfellow.

A variety of activities were available for both youth and adults, and many people were seen participating.

At the canoe station, lifejackets were in short supply as participants were eager to get out on the water.

A crowd was huddled around the canoe instructor who handed out directions and tips.

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"Most importantly, don't stand up in the canoe," he said, as the crowd started laughing.

Also at the canoe station was Diane Rose, a veteran participator of the festival, but first-time volunteer.

"I've come to this for many years now," Rose said. "Everyone is having new experiences and interacting and getting to know one another."

Rose stressed that meeting new people is an important part of the festival.

"It's great to be out here on such a nice day with some people you know and some people you don't," Rose said, "and the kids are having a great time."

Kids were enjoying themselves everywhere. From the arts and crafts station to the MinnAqua station, fun was in supply.

In one spot a circle of children had formed as they did their best to keep a giant inflatable ball off the ground while a volunteer kept count of how many hits in a row they accomplished.

At the MinnAqua stand kids attached fishing line to used pop cans to make a homemade fishing apparatus. At the end of the line were plastic weights covered in Velcro to catch cloth "fish" out in the grass.

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"I like it because the kids are out here building confidence," said MinnAqua volunteer Annette Drewes. "They learn the skills necessary to rig up their own fishing line."

MinnAqua is a Department of Natural Resources fishing education program that helps people build an understanding of the biological processes at work in the lakes and streams we fish.

These teachings are all a build-up to the actual act of fishing itself.

"It helps show them the habitat behind fishing," Drewes said.

Under a large blue and white tent are many informational booths aimed at educating the public.

Places and groups such as Peacemaker Resources, the Evergreen House, Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center, and the Bemidji Area Prevention Alliance were all in attendance.

Under another large tent at 5 p.m. were free walleye dinners for the public made up of different donated and local product.

Later in the afternoon there were lacrosse games and other intergenerational games for people of all ages.

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Back under the Rotary Pavilion there was live music including Native American drumming that could be heard throughout the waterfront.

To Goodfellow, the Cultural Connections Festival can be summed quite simply:

"It's all about getting to know people, having a good meal, listening to some music, and playing some games," he said.

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