Anishinaabemowin Jiimaan: A full birch bark canoe build, at Wahnapitae First Nation

Anishinaabemowin Jiimaan: A full birch bark canoe build, at Wahnapitae First Nation, including gathering and harvesting, in the Anishnaabemowin language, primarily an immersion approach.

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. Thus 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 birch bark 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.

A birch bark canoe will be built, including 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. 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.

The bark canoe build will occur in June to July 2018 at the Wahnapitae First Nation. The canoe build would take up to four weeks. This would present several opportunities for many presentations and public visits. The bark canoe build would be facilitated by Mike Ormsby. Community members, especially youth, would be involved. Mike wants to teach birch bark canoe building (and other related traditional skills) to Indigenous youth….to work with Indigenous communities and organizations….to help reconnect Indigenous peoples, especially youth, to the land….through their canoe heritage….as well as through culture and traditions….including the language.

This will include learning in the Anishinaabemowin language, through an immersion approach. This part will be facilitated by Albert Owl.

Elders, Traditional Teachers and Knowledge Keepers will be able to share stories and teachings related to the canoe. There would also be opportunities for ceremonies, including even a possible public launch of the finished canoe. This canoe will be the community’s.

This part is funded under the Ontario Arts Council’s Indigenous Culture Fund.

As well a second canoe will be built at the same time….for Grandmother Josephine Mandamin’s work protecting our water. UofT students and staff will be coming up under the Dean’s Indigenous Fund to help in this build.

Gathering/harvesting of building materials will take place in June. The actual canoe builds will take place the first two weeks of July.

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