Traditional canoe build helps Saugeen youth connect with ancestral ways

Traditional canoe build helps Saugeen youth connect with ancestral ways
Posted on 04/01/2019

The individual pieces of birch bark are hand stitched together and then onto the canoe to create the skin. Hub Staff

Kevin Finney from the Great Lakes Lifeways Institute in Michigan has been teaching Saugeen youth from how to build a wiigwaasi jiimaan (birch bark canoe). The project began on March 6 at the Saugeen Employment and Training Centre and reached completion in just 20 days. Many visitors came to see the work including a group of preschool kids who stopped in on March 25. Finney described to the kids how the boat is structured like our bodies with skin, ribs and muscle.
All materials used are given to us by the Great Spirit, explained Dan Kimewon whose son was taking part in the project. With one day of construction remaining March 25, the students were busy sealing the canoe with spruce gum, laying down the cedar flooring and getting ready to install the ribbing.
Kimewon said the canoe would really take shape once the ribs were in and pointed out how the cedar sheaths were split by hand, no machines were used in the building process. Even the tools were made by hand, with carved wooden handles. In addition to the canoe, birch bark was used for baskets, sap buckets and wigwams.

Kimewon spoke of the historical importance of the wiigwaasi jiimaan (birch bark canoe). During winter when the runners' trails were inaccessible, portages were the only way to hunt and trap. The birch bark canoe offers surprising durability and can support thousands of pounds. He said that many Ojibwe have lost their way, himself included, but by teaching these skills and traditions to the younger generations he is hopeful their ancestral ways will return.
Instructor Kevin Finney demonstrated to the students how to lay the cedar sheaths for the canoe floor March 25 at the Saugeen Employment and Training Centre.

Students from Saugeen District Secondary School and St Mary's High School used spruce gum to seal the gaps and seams before the flooring was laid in the canoe.

All the tools required for preparing the materials and assembling the canoe were handmade.

Buckets used to collect the sap in early spring, also made from birch bark.

Decorative canisters made from birch bark and etched by wetting the bark and scraping with a knife.

While learning to construct the canoe, the students were also learning Ojibwe words for the structural components and materials.

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