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Video: UMass Amherst Ojibwe Language Students Build Birchbark Canoe

Students in Howard Kimewon’s class floated around Puffer’s Pond in what is believed to be the first birchbark canoe to sail locally in 300 years.
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Students in Howard Kimewon’s Ojibwe language class at the University of Massachusetts Amherst floated around Puffer’s Pond May 2 in what is believed to be the first birchbark canoe to sail locally in 300 years.

This is not Kimewon’s first canoe build. The native Anishinaabemowin speaker and guest lecturer at UMass, has built seven in his lifetime, but this one he built with the help of students studying indigenous foodways, plant medicines, and anthropology. The skin and ribs of the canoe are white birch, it is bound by brasswood fibers, and its seats are white ash, according to a university press release.

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Painted by local artist Gina Siepel, the canoe’s insignia evokes the peregrine falcons of Du Bois Library.

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“Immersion in a canoe-building project is an innovative way to highlight the importance of water in the Anishinaabe language and culture indigenous to the Great Lakes region,” says the release. “For instance, in Anishinaabemowin, notkwemahza is a verb that means ‘he or she passes by in a canoe, singing a love song to [their] sweetheart’—one word that all by itself manages to convey motion, presence in a vehicle, two actions, mood, and a subject-object relationship.”

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Students in Howard Kimewon’s Ojibwe language class take the birchbark canoe on its maiden voyage.

“It’s very deep, if you stop to think about it—this representation of the Native people, the first people that were on this land, and for the university to welcome his [Howard Kimewon] teachings and his wisdom, it’s just been incredible,” says Elaine Kenseth in a video about the canoe launch.