Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan – These Canoes Carry Culture

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Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan: These Canoes Carry Culture is a program designed to teach Ojibwe youth the art of birchbark canoe building on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. This innovative program uses a preventative and culturally-situated intervention to improve health and wellness outcomes within targeted youth. Building upon Lac du Flambeau’s ENVISION program and Goodman Community Center’s Seed to Table program, These Canoes Carry Culture utilizes indigenous methodologies and pedagogies, along with traditional exercise, traditional teachings, and a culturally-situated approach to leadership building skills, in order to draw students to the good path of living. These Canoes Carry Culture is being led by Wayne “Mino-Giizhig” Valliere, an Ojibwe teacher, artist, and community leader from Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin.

These Canoes Carry Culture is a collaborative project, supported generously by the Windgate Foundation, the Wisconsin Humanities Council, the Office of the Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer, the Brittingham Foundation, the Collaborative Center for Health Equity, the Department of Art, the Department of Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies, the American Indian Studies Program, Wunk Sheek, the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, the Goodman Community Center, and ENVISION.

Follow the progress of the canoe and the project on the blog here and on Facebook.

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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Welcome


Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan: These Canoes Carry Culture Film

We’re very excited to announce a short 15-minute film that we’ve created. It’s full of interviews, images, and plenty of footage from the harvesting of the materials to the construction to the launches in Madison and Lac du Flambeau. We hope you’ll watch, enjoy, and share with others who might be interested in the project.

Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan: These Canoes Carry Culture on Vimeo.

Enjoy and miigwetch!

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Posted by on November 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


Carrying Our Heritage Forward – Lac du Flambeau Launch

The wiigwaasi-jiimaan is back in Madison after an eventful couple of days. It was a whirlwind trip to Lac du Flambeau as the canoe made its way back home to northern Wisconsin where this project began. We were honored to be just a small part of bringing the canoe back to Lac du Flambeau.

The day began at Wayne’s house, touching up the canoe and preparing it for the launch in Lake Pokegema. The northern Wisconsin sun was shining down on the birchbark for the first time since it was harvested nearly a year ago in Waaswaaganing. While at Wayne’s house, we took a few more photographs of the artist with his work.

With the canoe ready for launch, it was carefully transported to the Lac du Flambeau Public School School where a drum song was performed to welcome the canoe. Wayne then addressed the students and explained the project and reminded them of the importance of carrying their culture – their heritage – forward. As the students filed out of the gymnasium, they were able to walk up to, see, and touch the canoe. With banners in hand celebrating the seven teachings of respect, love, wisdom, truth, bravery, honesty, and humility, the students helped to walk the canoe from the school to Lake Pokegema. A drum song led the procession. Hundreds of students marched to the shores of Lake Pokegema as community members came out and joined the walk to the lake.

A short ceremony was held with students, teachers, community members, and honored elders in attendance. And then it was time. The canoe had already been placed in the water, waiting to finally be paddled. Wayne and Estabon, an ENVISION program student who assisted in harvesting the materials for the canoe and building the canoe while it was in Madison, paddled out onto Lake Pokegema. It was an amazing experience, a wonderful day, and an honor to be a part of and see all of the support for this project, carrying the culture and art form of birchbark canoe building forward.

Be sure to watch some of the wonderful footage from the day below:

And watch the full video of the event as recorded by the tribal photographer:


We write this a lot and we say this a lot but we can not stress this enough, thank you. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this project. Thank you to the Lac du Flambeau Public School. Thank you to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Thank you to the many donors. Thank you to the Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians for their continued support of this project. And of course, thank you to Wayne Valliere and the thousands of hands that touched this canoe. It’s been a year full of memories and good friends and we’re honored to have been able to share the entire process with you along the way. We hope to see many more birchbark canoes built in the future as this art form continues to evolve and to thrive.

So that’s the end of this canoe project. Kind of. We’ll be working on a permanent website and exhibition site to be hosted online at the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Culture and will announce that information here and on the Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan: These Canoes Carry Culture Facebook page so be sure to stop by every now and again to see how things are progressing. 

Miigwetch to everyone who has been a part of this project!

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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Events


Carrying Our Heritage Forward

Two hundred and twenty three miles. That’s the distance between Dejope Hall in Madison to the shores of Lake Pokegema in Lac du Flambeau. It’s also the distance that the canoe traveled yesterday in the (very well-padded) back of a truck. It’s the first time that the canoe has been in northern Wisconsin since its materials were harvested here in 2013.

All of the birchbark canoes that Wayne has worked on have at some point touched the waters here in Lac du Flambeau and this canoe will be no different. Students and staff from the Lac du Flambeau public school will be helping walk the canoe from the school to Lake Pokegema so that it can be launched around mid-day into the waters of northern Wisconsin.

If you’re in the area, be sure to stop by and for more information, just check out the press release below. We’ll be posting updates to the Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan: These Canoes Carry Culture Facebook page throughout the day and, of course, will be posting pictures and a short write-up here on the blog after the event.

We want to thank the UW-Madison Division of University Housing for generously helping facilitate the canoe’s trip up to Lac du Flambeau.


On Tuesday, June 10, 2014, Lac du Flambeau Public school students and staff will be carrying the traditional birchbark canoe built by Wayne Valliere and the ENVISION students from the school to the shores of Lake Pokegema, behind the Lake of the Torches Hotel in Lac du Flambeau. They will be accompanied by Tribal Elders, a drum and community members.

A video showcasing the project will be shown at the school at 11:15 am. The walk from the school to the canoe launch will begin at 11:45. The canoe will be launched following ceremonies at Lake Pokegema. The launch will take place between 12:15 and 12:30 pm.

The canoe was built in cooperation with The University of Wisconsin and will be permanently displayed at the new Dejope Residence Hall on the campus in Madison. Major funding for the project came from the Wisconsin Humanities Council.

The project is part of an effort to learn about and honor Ojibwe culture and centuries old technological skill within the context of a contemporary public school. “These Canoes Carry Culture” began in the summer of 2013 when Valliere and ENVISION students gathered materials for the canoe in the traditional way. This project gave students an opportunity to be proud of the wisdom and knowledge of their ancestors and to see how they can gain an academic education without sacrificing that culture.

ENVISION is a middle school project based service learning program with Ojibwe culture at its heart.

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Posted by on June 10, 2014 in Events


The Canoe Goes Home to Dejope

On Tuesday, May 27, the canoe made its way to Dejope Hall, where it will remain as an example of Ojibwe art. Wayne Valliere and his son,Jephrey, arrived in Madison to bless the canoe and paddle from the future site of UW Alumni Park to Dejope. In contrast to the initial launch back in November, the sun was shining and the spring weather helped welcome the canoe to Lake Mendota. Several community members and friends from campus came to take part in the ceremony. Around mid-morning, Wayne and Jephrey paddled along the shore to the Porter Boathouse.

Thanks to the Porter Boathouse for graciously allowing us use of the docks!

Upon arrival, we were able to portage the canoe to DeJope, where Wayne, the canoe, and the many generous donors were honored. Nearly 50 people joined us in celebrating the occasion in which Wayne, as well as Philippe COQUARD, spoke about the importance of the project to the continued understanding of indigenous cultures in Wisconsin and specifically at the University.

An amazing lunch followed, courtesy of UW Dining Services, as the canoe was mounted in front of the Four Lakes Market and dining area. Two signs accompany the canoe. One sign describes the project in both Ojibwe and English and documents the many important aspects of the building of the canoe including the tradition, culture, and construction that played such an important role over this past year. The other plaque acknowledges the artist and thanks the donors involved.

Special thanks once again to the following:

  • Philippe and Julie COQUARD family
  • Wisconsin Alumni Association
  • UW-Madison Division of University Housing
  • UW-Madison Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration

Their generous support throughout the fall of 2013 and the spring of 2014 have made so much of this possible.

The canoe will be available to Wunk Sheek, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Native America student organization on campus.

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Posted by on June 3, 2014 in Events



Moving to Dejope

The canoe is all set to move to its new and final home: Dejope Residence Hall on the UW-Madison campus. The move will happen in one week, on Tuesday, May 27, around midday. We are looking forward to welcoming Wayne and so many others who helped on the canoe. The canoe will be paddled from the future site of the UW Alumni Park next to Memorial Union down to Dejope Hall.

The wall mounts are all ready to receive the canoe inside Dejope Hall. The canoe will be visible in a prominent location, on the threshold between the Four Lakes Market and the dining area. This area looks out over Lake Mendota and the canoe will be visible from the Lakeshore Path. The canoe will bring an Ojibwe presence to the building’s art installations and be an enduring symbol of the importance of indigenous peoples in Wisconsin’s past, present, and future.

We would like to thank all of the people in University Housing who have been working hard in the last weeks to prepare for the canoe’s installation. In addition to the canoe, two plaques will be hung: one containing information on the canoe, and the other to commemorate the artist and thank the donors who have made this installation possible:

  • Philippe and Julie COQUARD family
  • Wisconsin Alumni Association
  • UW-Madison Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration
  • UW-Madison Division of University Housing

Miigwetch to everyone who has been part of the project and see you soon!

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Posted by on May 20, 2014 in Events


The Canoe at Madison Children’s Museum

After a very busy semester, Wayne and his UW associates arranged for the canoe to be loaned temporarily to the Madison Children’s Museum.  The canoe is beautifully displayed there with a video that presents the process of building with kid-friendly captions.  If you’re in Madison anytime soon, stop by to check out the canoe surrounded by hundreds of active and curious children and adults!

In the meantime, we’ve been busy arranging for the permanent purchase and display of the canoe on the UW-Madison campus.  Thanks to the legwork of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwest Cultures, the generosity of donors like the UW Alumni Association and the Philippe and Julie Coquard family, as well as the vision and goodwill of the UW Division of University Housing and the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, we are well on our way to making the canoe a permanent part of the University of Wisconsin community life!  Stay tuned for details on coming display and dedication ceremonies.

Here’s the video that accompanies the canoe at the Children’s Museum


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Posted by on December 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


Heading Home

You thought work on the canoe was done just because we launched last Thursday? Wayne spent a couple of extra days in Madison this week. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent putting some finishing touches on the canoe in preparation for its move (more to come on that next week), cleaning up the shop, and even speaking to a class in the business school.

On Tuesday, Wayne and the crew spent some time sanding the ribs and topwales to bring out the beauty of the grain in each piece of wood. It’s a time-consuming process, but one of those details that demonstrates the attention to detail that Wayne has when creating a piece of art like this birch bark canoe.

Later in the evening, Wayne spoke to the Arts Enterprise class being taught in the University of Wisconsin Business School this semester. He discussed the various art forms that he works in, even showing examples of his beadwork and artwork and towards the end of his hour-long presentation, Wayne sang a couple of songs. His message to the class focused on the history of Ojibwe art – specifically how it was originally only recognized as a handicraft to being recognized today as a truly beautiful art form.

On Wednesday, it was back to the woodshop. Wayne did some design work on each of the canoe paddles that he had fashioned earlier in the semester. Each paddle is now adorned with a thunderbird. With the final touches on both the canoe and paddle, Wayne added one last personal touch – his signature. And with that, the wiigwaasi-jiimaan is truly finished and Wayne headed home to Lac du Flambeau.

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Posted by on November 28, 2013 in Building the Canoe



On Thursday, November 21st just after 3:00 pm, months and months of work culminated in the launching of the wiigwaasi-jiimaan into Lake Mendota.

The day began with a feast in the woodshop. Kids from the ENVISION program came down from Lac du Flambeau with artwork of their own, some beautiful paintings of the wiigwaasi-jiimaan that provided the backdrop for the feast to come. Along with their artwork, the students brought with them homemade venison stew, frybread, and wild rice soup. Students from the Goodman Center also joined the feast and helped carry the canoe to the launch site.

With the canoe in place, Tim Frandy introduced the project and Wayne to the crowd of 100-150 people. For those of you who were unable to attend, we’ve included an excerpt of the introductory words by Tim below:

For those of us who have worked on the canoe, we’ve known this canoe since the time it was still in the woods. We knew that birch bark when we peeled it from the trees in June. We knew the ribs and sheathing when we packed cedar out of the forest and split it by hand in July. We knew those lashings when we dug spruce roots in August. And that pitch we knew when we knocked pine pitch off trees in September. This canoe is like a brother, and a friend, and its a family of people who have made it happen. Canoe building brings people together. And, as Wayne has explained to us, it’s healthy for the four sides of self: the mind, the body, the emotions, and the spirit.

It was at this point that Wayne, one of only three Native canoe builders in the state of Wisconsin (the other two are his older brother Leon and Marvin DeFoe), spoke briefly to the crowd. Just prior to the launch, Wayne said “I don’t know how long it’s been since an Anishinaabe birch bark canoe has ventured into these waters.” With his daughter in his arms, he thanked everyone for their help and support during the project and reiterated the importance of canoe building as a way to use indigenous methods, practices, and teachings to preserve Ojibwe culture and to promote health and wellness. Finally, students from Wunk Sheek, a student organization that represents the Native American population on campus, performed a honor song prior to the launch of the canoe.

And then it was time to launch. With the cold setting in, the wind whipping, and the waves lapping against the slippery stone steps down into Lake Mendota, the canoe was lowered into the water. Wayne and Tim stepped into the canoe and paddled in a slow circle out into Lake Mendota as the crowd looked on. It was an amazing moment to watch 14 months of work, a beautiful piece of artwork, slowly and elegantly cut through the autumn waves.

Thanks to Mike Rausch of Arrow of Light Design who attended the launch and photographed the event. Click on the gallery for a set of incredible pictures.

Miigwetch to everyone who came out to the launch and to everyone involved with the project. It was an honor to share this with all of you.

To read more about the launch, click on the links below:

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Posted by on November 24, 2013 in Uncategorized


Finishing Touches

It was a big day today. We write that a lot, mostly because every day we see just how much progress is being made. It’s been an amazing journey watching the canoe take form after having harvested the materials so long ago.

But today was an especially big day. The canoe is finished. In fact, there were quite a few finishing touches that were made over the course of another long day in the woodshop. The day began by putting the topwales in place and ended with the cooking and eventual application of the pitch to the various seams. In between, a 3-D Design class came by to check out the canoe.

The topwales, or agowaatig, are made of red cedar and are held in place by wooden pegs. The agowaatig protect the root lashings from damage while paddling. Each piece of red cedar is placed upon the gunwales to protect the root lashings and are then bent to fit the form of the canoe. The cedar has been soaking for several weeks in a local lake and is then steamed and heated with boiling water to make the wood more pliable. With the agowaatig in place, Wayne lashed them down using roots and then drove wooden pegs through the agowaatig to secure them. That rootwork was the last of the rootwork on this canoe. Everything securely in place, the pegs were trimmed and made flush with the agowaatig. At this point, it’s just the pitch that needs to be applied. 

The pitch, as we explained yesterday in Fine-tuning ribs, preparing pitch, begins as a solid, raw pine pitch. After preparation, it results in a thick, black liquid. That thick, black liquid is then mixed with oak ash and animal fat, known as bimide, to create a pitch that will seal the canoe. It’s important to get the right mix of oak ash and bimide to ensure that the canoe can withstand the heat of a Wisconsin summer and not begin to melt, but also the cold of a Wisconsin winter and not begin to crack. Before applying the finished pitch to the canoe, Wayne tested each batch.

The pitch, with a slightly sweet smell, is warmed so that it can be spread across the different seams. Wayne applied the pitch with a cedar spatula called bigiw-jichigan. Between each application, Wayne smoothed the pitch across the seams using his thumb.

And with that, the canoe is ready for launch on Thursday at 3:00 pm in Lake Mendota at the future site of the UW Alumni Park beside the Memorial Union. See you all then!

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Posted by on November 20, 2013 in Building the Canoe


Fine-tuning ribs, preparing pitch.

Last week Wayne trimmed and set the ribs permanently into the canoe. All that was left today was to fine tune the positioning of each rib with a mallet to get a fit that was straight and true. As a preliminary step, the hull was doused with boiling water to ensure that the bark would stretch to accommodate each precision adjustment. Once satisfied with his work, Wayne flooded the canoe to test the bark for leaks. To Wayne’s great satisfaction, there were only a few minor leaks, reflecting the excellent quality of both the materials and workmanship that have gone into this particular canoe. These leaks will be closed in the final step: pitching the seams.

While the ribs were being fine-tuned, the preparation of the pitch began. Raw pine pitch, which is near solid at room temperature, was heated in metal cans to decrease its viscosity. What bubbled up was a thick black liquid, which was then strained through burlap to remove impurities. This was the first step in preparing the pitch, which will be finished tomorrow and then applied to the canoe.

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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in Building the Canoe