Wiigwaas: Birchbark

Wayne and his crew of helpers harvested birchbark for the canoe in late June and early July, when the bark “pops” from the birch trees. During this season, the birchbark is at its strongest, and birch trees can most easily heal after bark has been harvested. Birchbark is also harvested at other times of the year, but for different purposes. In Ojibwe culture, wiigwaas is regarded as an essential material for life. Anishinaabe people used the material for constructing watertight implements like canoes and boiling baskets, for storage of foodstuffs, for constructing lightweight and useful baskets and containers, and even as a cooking utensil. If one harvests birchbark in the proper way, it can be harvested without doing permanent damage to the tree. Larger pieces necessary for the hull of a 14-foot canoe will often end up leading to the tree’s death. Such large pieces, however, are harvested from only very large, mature trees that are near the end of their lives. By harvesting these large trees, space is opened up for younger trees to fill in. Young trees also sprout from the roots of the trunk, regenerating the tree’s life. And the wood lies in the forest and is frequently returned to after the wood has cured. The wood of a felled tree is often used for canoe thwarts, paddles, and other handcrafts. Any remaining materials from the tree becomes a source of life for various insects, birds and animals that move in, or shelter within its branches.

Watch Wayne harvesting birchbark:

Click on the pictures for more details!


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