This blog includes updates from the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project sponsored by Western Michigan University in partnership with the City of Niles, the Fort St. Joseph Museum, Support the Fort, Inc. and other community groups. The Project is dedicated to archaeological research, education, community service learning, and intensive public outreach. The Principal investigator of the Project is Dr. Michael Nassaney.
Friday, July 22, 2016
Resurrecting the Art of Canoe Building
all! It’s DJ again. On Wednesday, July 20, our 2016 field school team attended
a lecture by Kevin Finney at the Niles Public Library, titled “Dugout and Bark
Canoes.” Kevin gave a comprehensive look at the various canoes that were used
by native peoples and early European settlers. He has personally built, using
the technology and methods of their respective time, each of the canoes he
describes. He divided each category of canoe by era, material, and function and
in doing so, revealed the ingenuity of those who first invented them.
Kevin Finney with a Full House!
(Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
first type of canoe he shed light on was the dugout canoe, spoken by the Potawatomi
as mtego jiman. Although they can be fashioned from many
trees, the tulip poplar and white pine trees are most commonly used because
they are large and easily carved due to their soft wood. Their name is somewhat
misleading since the canoes were not made by digging out the wood to shape a
canoe. While Kevin was researching the proper way to create a dugout canoe, he
discovered watercolor photos that displayed native peoples using fire to burn
out the center of the cut log that would become their canoe, all while floating
in the water on the log itself. After testing this method himself, he found out
that the canoe he had created matched many of the physical observations he had
made on actual canoes constructed during that time period, such as undulating
surfaces and being about 1 ½ inches in thickness. After describing how well the
canoe worked he began discussing the other type of canoe.
canoes are aptly named after the material they are made of. They are much
lighter than the dugout canoes and primarily used to traverse rivers since they
can be portaged easily. Two of the main barks used were birch and elm, each
with their own beneficial properties. Elm was heavier and sturdier of the two
but made portaging the boat more difficult. Birch was lightweight and easily
portaged but was more fragile as a result.
the lecture by covering the work he does with children through the Jijak
foundation. Each of the canoes he makes is done with the help of students from
the area. He also organizes events to keep the heritage of the Gun Lake Band of
the Potawatomi Indians intact.
just one of many lectures that will be held in part with the Fort St. Joseph
Archaeological Project at the Niles District Library each Wednesday at 7 p.m.
until August 10. I really enjoyed the friendly and energetic atmosphere the
Niles locals brought with them to the lecture. I’d highly recommend coming down
to anyone who enjoys an interesting listen and good conversation.
Our set up for Third Thursday (Photo Credit: Genna Perry)
following day, Thursday, July 21, I spent some time downtown in front of Daysha
Fritz’s “Olfactory Hue Bistro” for Third Thursday, a small monthly festival,
talking about Fort St. Joseph with people passing by. I had an amazing time
with the community members whose genuine interest in the fort and what we were
doing furthered my conviction that Niles, MI is a special place. If you are a
seeker of hidden wonders, look no further.