Friday, July 22, 2016

Resurrecting the Art of Canoe Building

Hello 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)
The 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.
Bark 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.
He ended 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. 
This was 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)
The 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. 

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