Canoe For Niwiijiiwok Doodemag – Gathering Of Clans 2018….For Grandmother Josephine Mandamin

Niwiijiiwok Doodemag – Gathering Of Clans 2018 is a very important event. I am truly looking forward to attending.
A group of us are planning to build a wiigwaasi jiimaan at Wahnapitae FN this July to honour Grandmother Josephine….and should be finished in time for the Gathering.
A birch bark canoe built with winter bark – at least one panel length below gunnels along each side – which is then etched with images depicting healing at individual, family and community levels (also we will hopefully be including some designs on the jiimaan to highlight Grandmother and all her work). The bark canoe would show a healing journey….road or path to recovery….to find our rightful place as First Peoples in Canadian mosaic. Other images could be painted on the bark as well.
We hope this wiigwaasi jiimaan might find a place in the circle at this Gathering….if so, we would be honoured.
This jiimaan once finished will be Grandmother’s to do with as she pleases….keep to use as a teaching tool, a reminder of our Anishinaabe culture and traditions….our amazing technology….or to use to raise funds for the important work to protect water.
As the great canoe builder, Marcel Labelle says:
“The Anishinaabe needed transportation for the waterways which are a large part of their territory. The people realized the Creator had provided the very blueprint for such a watercraft based on their own bodies. The birch bark canoe was created. They turned to Mother Earth for the materials required, offering a prayer and tobacco as a gift each time they harvested these materials. We ask the birch tree if we can use the birchbark for the skin. We go to the cedar tree and ask if we can use its wood for the inner part of the canoe. The thinner cedar sheathing is like the layer of muscle, beneath the skin. The ribs of the canoe strengthen and support the canoe. The thwarts act as the sternum. The gunnels are the backbone. Our tendons are flexible and strong, bonding our muscles to our bones. We borrow the pliant roots from the spruce tree to connect the canoe together, by lashing and sewing with the roots. We also use the blood of the spruce tree – the gum or the tree’s sap – to seal the canoe. Like our blood, the tree’s sap flows. When our skin is punctured, our blood coagulates and it heals, sealing the wound. The same thing with the canoe; we use the blood of the spruce tree to seal the canoe. So this is the blue print. We carry it with us.”
The canoe increased our reach to shape the Canada we know today, carrying many to otherwise inaccessible landscapes. The canoe was a gift from First Nations to the immigrants from distant lands who used inadequate modes of transport, reflective of a different worldview. It was a gift that allowed the newcomers to flourish and grow. Most certainly, the canoe played a pivotal role in our collective past but it also has a significant role to play in our future.
The canoe worked with our geography to navigate waterways that connected people for trading and sharing. The shapes and patterns of each craft reflected individual personality, local culture and various functions, but often sharing the same general principles of design and construction. The canoe epitomized balance, strength, beauty, function and adaptability. It was built from various gifts of Mother Earth, shaped from the bounty of our wilderness, its design handed down through the generations, infused with spirit and responsible connections to a sustainable environment.
Today the canoe continues to teach us. It offers us an opportunity to understand and celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of First Nations peoples. These contributions have long been absent from our historical narratives. It invites authentic questions and encourages connected thinking in a variety of different ways. It can serve as a catalyst for a trans-disciplinary, wholistic approach that can offer meaning and insight into the values and worldviews of the people who created it. It provides opportunities to learn about each other.
The Two Row Wampum speaks of friendship, respect and peace. The belt is fashioned with two rows of purple wampum (traditional shell beads) alternating with three rows of white.
The white wampum represent peace, friendship and respect while the purple ones depict the paths of two vessels traveling together on the river of life.
One vessel, a birch bark canoe, is for the Indigenous people and their customs and laws and the other, a sailing ship, is for the European settlers and their customs and laws. The pact promised that each would travel the river together but in separate boats, parallel but never touching, pledging that “neither of us will try to steer the other’s vessel.”
That the ends remain unfinished is representative of the fact that the stories of both peoples have both a long history and a future that is still being written. Their stories intertwine like the tassels of the belt and like the waters of the river. They will continue on down this river together in peace and friendship as long as the grass is green, the water flows, and the sun rises in the east.
We need to refloat or right the canoe that is Canada, especially as we work towards reconciliation. This is both hope and challenge for us; what we strive towards as real possibility for a shared future; to remind Canadians that we’re all in the same canoe and that to make this country work we should all be paddling together.
It has been said: “To know where one is going, one must know from where one has come.” In doing so, it is also good to think in canoe terms: “When in doubt, keep the open end up, and the pointed end forward.”
Again consider the birch bark canoe. From the birch tree, comes the bark; from the spruce, pliant roots; from the cedar, the ribs, planking and gunwales; and from a variety of natural sources, the sealing pitch. Form followed function, and manufacture was linked to available materials. A birch bark canoe is inherently beautiful. The canoe connects us not only to the past as well as present & future but reminds us of the importance of nature in our lives. Balance. Harmony. Grace.
The late Anishinaabe Elder Art Solomon once said:
“Native people feel they have lost something and they want it back. It doesn’t necessarily mean that when I talk about going back over there, that we stay over there. You have to get those teachings and pick up those things that we left along the way. The drums, the language, the songs are all scattered around. We need to bring them into this time. You need these things to teach your children today in order to give them that direction and good feelings about who they are. They need to know where they are going. It doesn’t mean we have to go back to living in teepees. You can be a traditionalist and be comfortable wherever you are.”
Art also said:
“The traditional way of education was by example, experience, and storytelling. The first principle involved was total respect and acceptance of the one to be taught, and that learning was a continuous process from birth to death. It was total continuity without interruption. Its nature was like a fountain that gives many colours and flavours of water and that whoever chose could drink as much or as little as they wanted to whenever they
wished. The teaching strictly adhered to the sacredness of life whether of humans, animals or plants.”
I feel it’s important to carry on the tradition of bark canoe building and pass on the skills to the future generation. These vessels are an example of what humans can accomplish when they work with nature rather than against it. About being connected to the earth and nature. It is about working with natural materials and making that connection. They’re made from renewable resources, don’t create pollution when made or used and are completely biodegradable.
Artisans across the Great Lakes are sustaining a work of art that is of cultural and historical significance to many in the area. The tradition of birch bark canoe building and travel is clearly not invented. It has lived in the hearts and memories of Anishinaabe peoples throughout the Great Lakes, resting like seeds within the community – waiting to germinate and flourish.
Perhaps this jiimaan can lead others to learn and pass on birch bark canoe building (and other related traditional skills) to Anishinaabe youth….to work with Indigenous communities and organizations….to help reconnect Indigenous peoples, especially youth, to the land, to the water….through their canoe heritage….as well as through culture and traditions….including the language. This jiimaan could bring Indigenous people together….learning about their culture and traditions together….altogether in one canoe as it were.
(NOTE: I apologize for being too wordy….but I am half Ojibway, half Irish….or Ojiberrish. Seriously though, I wanted to simply speak on the importance of the jiimaan. How young men such as Waasekom Niin embraced the jiimaan as part of their journey literally. Miigwech for taking the time to read these words.)


Basil Smith/Jocko Carle Birch Bark Canoe For Sale

I purchased a birch bark canoe built by Basil Smith and Jocko Carle recently with the intent of restoring and most likely keeping.

But after a lot of thought I have decided that the Jocko Carle/Basil Smith birch bark canoe too valuable to keep….plus I have medical expenses I did not figure on since I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last week.

The canoe was built 40 to 50 years ago. This is an authentic 13′ bark canoe built by 2 of the best builders from Maniwaki Quebec, Jocko Carle, Basil Smith. Built from a single piece of bark….in amazing shape….mostly just needs some new lashing and new pitch….and then will be ready to be on the water again.

It will be fully restored by Chuck Commanda (William Commanda’s grandson….Basil Smith was William’s brother-in-law) and myself.

Open to reasonable offers considering the importance of this canoe. Serious inquiries only. A 50% deposit would be required, with the remaining 50% paid upon completion.

This is a very significant canoe, worthy of any serious collector.

NOTE: In 1980 Jocko and Basil were filmed doing a full build; this film is available through Henri Vaillancourt:

Kū-Kŭm Kitchen Canoe Model

Almost a year ago an amazing restaurant opened in Toronto….Kū-Kŭm Kitchen where chef Joseph Shawana reimagines traditional Indigenous recipes with fine dining techniques. Kū-Kŭm Kitchen is a restaurant with a philosophy of showcasing what chef Joseph Shawana calls the “whole ingredient,” by which he means using what’s readily available and respecting the source of our nourishment— Mother Nature. He’s a patron of foragers, and Indigenous fishers and hunters. It’s his deeply personal brand of locavorism.

I am so taken by this great restaurant that I offered to gift a birch bark canoe model to Kū-Kŭm. This canoe model is now on display at Kū-Kŭm Kitchen….it is an old fashioned Anishinaabe canoe (1/4 scale)….please feel free to check it out for yourself if you are in Toronto. Better yet check out the incredible food….great service….plus fantastic atmosphere with great art.



Kū-Kŭm Kitchen
581 Mount Pleasant Rd. 416-519-2638,

Stages Of Birch Bark Canoe Construction

First Stage of Canoe Construction:
A gunwale frame is used to give the canoe its basic shape. Stakes are placed in the ground at regular intervals. Instead of the gunwales, a building frame is used in some areas.


Second Stage of Canoe Construction:
The stakes and the gunwales or building frame have been removed and laid aside. A single sheet of bark, with the outside of the bark on the inside, is aligned on carefully smoothed bed. Then gunwales or building frame are placed over the bark and weighed down with stones.


Third Stage of Canoe Construction:
The bark is now shaped over the building bed and the stakes reinserted into their holes in pairs and tied across the canoe. Gores are cut in the bark as the canoe is shaped toward the ends. Part of the bark is shaped here and secured between the stakes and long battens. “A” shows battens secured by sticks lashed to stakes.


Fourth Stage of Canoe Construction:
The bark has been shaped and the gunwales raised to sheer height. All stakes are placed. “A” indicates the sticks which fix the sheer of the gunwales. “B” indicates blocks placed under ends to form rocker. The side panels are shown in place and the thwarts have been inserted. The side seams and gores are sewn and the stempieces (not visible) are sewn in place to form the ends. Double gunwales (inwale and outwale) are now in place. If the gunwales and thwarts have been used as a building frame, the sides will slope inward (tumblehome) once the ribs are in place. If a narrower building frame is used, the sides will flare.


Fifth Stage of Canoe Construction:
The canoe is removed from the building bed and set on horses for complete sewing and shaping the ends. The bark cover has dried out in a flat-bottomed and wall-sided form. The canoe is now ready for the ribs to give it a final shape.


Sixth Stage of Canoe Construction:
The cedar sheathing (upper left) is placed in the canoe, overlapping in the middle, and held in place by temporary ribs (lower right). The wulegessis (a protective bark flap on the bow and stern of the canoe) is in place and the canoe is ready to take its final shape. The ribs are inserted in pairs from the ends and tapped in place, their ends fitting firmly between the inwale and outwale with group lashing in the space between the ribs.