Skip to main content

Boreal Community Media

Birch bark canoes carry Anishinaabe culture forward

Apr 01, 2019 10:25AM ● By Editor
 By Dan Hagen of WJFW-TV - March 31, 2019

The lives of the Anishinaabe people used to revolve around birch bark canoes for fishing, hunting, traveling, and even ceremony. Wayne Valliere of the Lac du Flambeau band of Lake Superior Chippewa is traveling around the Midwest to keep that tradition alive.

Birch bark, cedar, and spruce roots are weak by themselves - but strong together.

"Holding each other up, helping each other," said Ira Frank, a member of the Forest County Potawatomi. "It's a good way to look at life."

Frank was at the Old Tribal Center outside of Crandon on Sunday to learn how to build birch bark canoes. He is Potawatomi, and Valliere is Ojibwe. But together they are part of a larger people, the Anishinaabe.

"We've learned by working together that we're strong," said Valliere.

Valliere said a big part of Anishinaabe identity is the birch bark canoe.

"It's who we are," said Valliere.

The canoes carried his ancestors. Now they carry culture.


Valliere took on Lawrence Mann as his apprentice five years ago. Mann is a member of the Forest County Potawatomi.

"I'm just a part of learning this knowledge and carrying on to the next generation," said Mann.

They travel the Midwest making sure their canoe culture continues. Valliere said the more tribes that remember their roots, the stronger they will all be.

"If you put one tree in a field and bring up a big wind, that tree's going to topple right over. But if you put the birch tree by the maple, by the pine, by the spruce; the wind comes by and they stand strong," said Valliere.

Valliere said this canoe with the Forest County Potowatomi will be his thirtieth. His tour will take him farther than the Midwest next year - he's been asked to make a canoe in Paris.

Upcoming Events Near You
Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here