Evanston, Illinois—This morning at sunrise, a birchbark canoe was launched on the shores of Lake Michigan at Northwestern University—a first in hundreds of years. The canoe was built by Wayne Valliere, a member of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. 

“The launching of this canoe is like coming home today,” said Wayne Valliere during the ceremony. “The spirits that live in this place never forgot the Anishinaabeg; they never forgot who we are and they are happy today.”

Want more Native News? Get the free daily newsletter today.

Valliere is one of the few remaining traditional birchbark canoe makers among the Anishinabe people, commonly known as the Three Fires Confederacy of the Ojibwe, Potawatomi and the Odawa people. Valliere is a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow and also practices other traditions such as beading, quillwork and drum making.

The lessons he shares are not just about canoes, but our place in the world. 

“Our Grandmother—the Earth—isn’t doing too well. The water throughout this country is contaminated and without clean water we have no life,” said Valliere. 

Valliere recollects the history of the Anishinabeg people, and shared with the nearly 100 people attending the launching that it has been nearly 400 years since a canoe has been launched on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. “It’s been put in other places, north of here, but not in this place,” said Valliere. 

The Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR) at Northwestern University hosted Wayne Valliere as an artist-in-residence, where he taught students and others the craft and traditions of canoe making over the last three weeks. CNAIR is Northwestern’s primary institutional space dedicated to advancing scholarship, teaching, learning and artistic or cultural practices related to Native American and Indigenous communities, priorities, histories and lifeways. 

“Our local Indigenous community, the town of Evanston, students at Northwestern University all came to participate in the building of this canoe,” said Northwestern University Outreach and Engagement Associate Director Pamala Silas to Native News Online.

The canoe will be housed somewhere on campus, said Silas. “It is our hope that this canoe is more than just an object to the community and it inspires teaching and learning from an Indigenous perspective,” she said.

Earlier this summer, a group of Northwestern faculty and students traveled to the Lac du Flambeau Reservation in northern Wisconsin to help gather materials used to create the canoe: cedar for the ribs, spruce roots for the stitching, pine pitch to seal the seams and birchbark. The Anishinaabeg used birchbark to build homes, cradles, caskets and much more. 

“After 500 years of attempting to assimilate the Anishinabe people, it still hasn’t happened yet,” said Valliere.

More Stories Like This

Tribal Language Summit Convenes in Oklahoma City
Native American Church to Host Historic Field Meeting with House Natural Resources Committee
Q&A: Heather Miller, Illinois State Museum Director of Tribal Relations
Senate Introduces Legislation to Support Tribal Economic Development
Department of the Interior Launches Indigenous Food Hubs

Do you appreciate a Native perspective on the news? 

For the past decade-plus, we’ve covered the important Indigenous stories that are often overlooked by other media. From the protests at Standing Rock and the toppling of colonizer statues during the racial equity protests, to the ongoing epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) and the past-due reckoning related to assimilation, cultural genocide and Indian Boarding Schools, we have been there to provide a Native perspective and elevate Native voices.

Our news is free for everyone to read, but it is not free to produce. That’s why we’re asking you to make a donation this month to help support our efforts. Any contribution — big or small — helps us remain a force for change in Indian Country and continue telling the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.  Most often, our donors make a one-time gift of $20 or more, while many choose to make a recurring monthly donation of $5 or $10.  Whatever you can do, it helps fund our Indigenous-led newsroom and our ability to cover Native news. 

Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you. 

About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.