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:
- “Birch bark canoe helps keep Ojibwe culture afloat” by Dennis Punzel | Wisconsin State Journal – November 22, 2013
- “Ojibwe birch bark canoe launches in Lake Mendota” by Mary Ellen Gabriel | College of Letters & Science – November 20, 2013