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Watch a Birch Bark Canoe Being Built

The birch bark canoe project is a way for Native American traditions and language to be taught to younger generations.

For the second year, the Fond du Lac Cultural Center & Museum in Cloquet, Minnesota, is building a birch bark canoe and streaming it live on the web for all the world to see. The project will take about three weeks and promotes language preservation in an immersion setting.

Visit the Canoe Cam to watch the boat take shape.

Goals of the birch bark canoe project include implementing a “language preservation project that will contribute to the fluency, knowledge and comfort using the Ojibwe language” and creating “community members skilled in our cultural arts who then can be the future teachers and mentors.”

The 2010 canoe build is detailed in a book called Wiigwaasi Jiimaan 2010—birch bark canoe—which discusses the importance of preserving culture through hands-on learning. The book also includes an illustration with the Ojibwe words for all the parts of the canoe, and a step-by-step guide to traditional canoe-building.

“Intergenerational teaching and participation provides the foundation for our culture and was a cornerstone of our project,” the book says. “Canoe building skills and the language go hand in hand in maintaining each other.”

The process of gathering the birch bark—maniwiigwaase—is a time-consuming one. Trees have to be 50 to 70 years old, and have thick, flexible bark with small horizontal lines. “One good canoe birch bark tree peeled in the proper season can yield enough bark for a complete canoe,” the book says.

The language is prevalent throughout the building process. Language CD’s were developed and played and Ojibwe words and phrases are all over the jiimaanike- wigwaming, or canoe making house.

For example, the word jiimaan comes from the root word ojiim, to kiss. One of the pages in the book details how this came to be: “jiimaan are tested for holes and imperfections by putting your lips to the bark inhaling or exhaling to search for small holes in the bark needing to be pitched.”

During the 2010 build a screen shot was taken once per minute, visit the Fond du Lac Cultural Center & Museum website to see the entire build from start to finish in four minutes.