what do we expect to accomplish by building a birch bark canoe at Wahnapitae

SO what do we expect to accomplish by building a birch bark canoe at Wahnapitae First Nation?

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. 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 community….if so, we would be honoured.

This jiimaan once finished will be for the community’s to do with as it pleases….keep to use as a teaching tool, a reminder of our Anishinaabe culture and traditions….our amazing technology….but also to be used out on the 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.”

Art also spoke of the need for our communities to heal:

“The imperative for us now, as Native people, is to heal our communities, and heal our nations, because we are the final teachers in this sacred land. We have to teach how to live in harmony with each other and with the whole creation. People will have to put down their greed and arrogance before they can hear what we are saying. I am not sure how many will do that. So we are in the process of healing ourselves, healing our communities, and healing our nations.”

Art also said: “To heal a nation, we must first heal the individuals, the families and the communities.”

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. Miigwech for taking the time to read these words.)

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Punny Canoe

As Kirk Wipper might have said:
“Welcome to the BARK side…..may the FOURTH canoe be with you. This will be a real RIB-tickler….though guess you just GUNNEL have to take it, before we CAP it off. SEW let me make my PITCH, without you getting GUMmed out. Just stay ROOTed. Please try not to be STERN…..but take a BOW instead….and then we will all CEDAR you later.”
Kirk Wipper was a ‘punny’ man and a friend of Grandfather William Commanda….as well as founder of the Canadian Canoe Museum13103329_10154766305716002_244201639875433882_n

National Canoe Day

Tuesday June 26th was  National Canoe Day….a day to celebrate the culture of the canoe. As I write this a birch bark canoe is being completed at Curve Lake First Nation by Chuck Commanda….perhaps more birch bark is being gathered in Wahnapitae First Nation for the two canoe being built there, beginning next week, led by yours truly….while at Shawanaga First Nation another canoe will soon be built by Kevin Finney….other birch bark canoes are planned for later this summer…..perhaps we will soon have a complete fleet of bark canoes. Then we can truly go over to the BARK SIDE!!!!

 

birch-bark-canoe-and-map-jon-q-wright - Copy

The Spirit of the Birch Bark Canoe
To fully understand and appreciate the birch bark canoe, you have to fully understand the Indigenous culture because that’s how it developed.
It’s only been in the last 200 years or so that we developed the canoe using different construction techniques and materials. But in many eyes, those newer techniques will never match the resonance and spirit of the birch bark canoe.

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A birch bark canoe is harvested by hand in the forest. It comes from living trees and materials harvested only after asemaa (tobacco) has been offered and a prayer has been said. The canoe is formed by hand, keeping good thoughts in mind. When you go through all the harvesting and construction of the canoe with that type of approach, something magical happens.

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But as with all canoes, a birch bark canoe is meant to be used….not merely hung from a ceiling….or a wall….or stuck in a museum. This is not to say that a bark canoe is not a work of art. But that doesn’t mean they should lose their function and become untouchable art. You should be able to put the canoe in the water and use it….to paddle it. A birch bark canoe should be a work of art that is functional.

RoyThomas.Relatives
Form will follow function, and be linked to available natural materials. From the birch tree will come 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. A typical birch bark canoe consists of selected high grade birch bark, over 35 hand-split cedar ribs, 50 wafer-thin cedar sheathing, full-length gunwales and pegged caps, deck ends, birch thwarts, about 500 feet of spruce root lacing, and two quarts of spruce gum/bear fat waterproofing. Depending on the materials used, a 14-foot canoe can take between 30 and 50 hours to complete. This time commitment requires dedication. A birch bark canoe is inherently beautiful. The canoe connects us not only to past cultures but reminds us of the importance of nature in our lives. Balance. Harmony. Grace.

A bark canoe is a living being….made from natural materials….all of which is alive….from the bark of a living birch tree….to the green wood of the cedar used for ribs and sheathing….to the roots of the spruce tree that help hold the canoe together….and the gum of the spruce that helps seal it. All of these are alive….as is the birch bark canoe itself. The spirit of the bark canoe is very much alive.

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.)