By Stephanie Pheasant-Recollet, Youth Programs Assistant
Working with Birch Bark had been a long-awaited skill that I had tucked away, during the Spring of 2016. Just last year, that skill resurfaced, but evolved with a newfound understanding and appreciation for the versatile material. With the guidance of my Anishinaabe culture and friends, my daughter (6) and I were able to learn more than ever.
When I first handled Birch Bark, it was during a porcupine quill box workshop. Already peeled from the tree, and displayed nicely for everyone’s use. Convenient. At the time, I mostly saw this workshop as an opportunity for a new skill I could use later on, should I need it. I never did, until I started observing others in the area sharing its use on social media. It was then that something started to click.
Ancestral knowledge teaches us, in the simplest form, that we don’t take this, or that, because it will offset that over there.Stephanie Pheasant-Recollet
There are a lot of things we don’t need, mostly collected to fill a void we think needs to be filled: maybe with historic trinkets, random objects, and items for monetary display. Materialism/Consumerism. This is fine, but with my growing thirst for knowledge of the land, I decided to fill that void with the education of knowing how to do things with Mother Earth’ s provisions. From art, to plant harvesting(foods/medicine), to tools, to canoes, dwellings, and more!
And yes, I grasp that we are in a time of not needing to take any more than we should from a planet – that is hurting more than healing. But, a lot of Indigenous peoples across the globe have a sacred connection and understanding of their lands (geography) and how different things affect one another(environmental science!). Ancestral knowledge teaches us, in the simplest form, that we don’t take this, or that, because it will offset that over there. In depth with our own cultures, there is beauty in these understandings, paired with appreciation in knowledge that runs to the core of our being. With these teachings, sustainability is ingrained within my culture and language. This holds me accountable to not over harvest and only take what I need. This knowing, allowed indigenous people of turtle island to live sustainability for thousands of years!
That there’s more to the act of doing just to do it, but to do things with intention, purpose, and understanding. And if you don’t know how, something she always said, was to: “Just do it!” Somewhere along the way the answer will come to you.Stephanie Pheasant-Recollet
Near the ending of last Spring, I harvested my first piece of Birch Bark! And let me tell you, it is not easy. While still grasping how to work with the bark, I stored it, until I gained more understanding in the following Fall & Winter months, from amazing new friends on social media platforms. Also, during this short time, I gained a vast appreciation for working with natural materials. I learned how to utilize the trees and plants for tools, foods, and medicines. What I did notice was a lot of the stuff I searched for have been close to or on the waterways. Which I felt would have been easier with a canoe, and this is where the idea of commitment started. I wanted to make my own canoe. Sure, I could buy one, but why? My ancestors made their own, I’m sure I could too.
Before I joined Waterlution, a part of my family suffered a great loss, as well as the people who knew this amazing Nokomis (Grandmother). A lot of people know her as the Water Walker, or Grandmother Josephine-baa, but she was my aunt and a great inspiration to me. Although passed, she helped me understand dedication and commitment to the greater world of spirituality, in our culture. That there’s more to the act of doing just to do it, but to do things with intention, purpose, and understanding. And if you don’t know how, something she always said, was to: “Just do it!” Somewhere along the way the answer will come to you. My answer was, a commitment to Birch Bark.
Having no knowledge of how to start, I soaked in every ounce of whatever resources were out there. It was during this time, I got in touch with the Great Canoe Journey Program by Waterlution. Understandably, it was the name that got me! While there, I learned more from a canoe maker that shared what he knew, as well as later in my volunteering, I got to see a real Birch Bark canoe! Having gained some strong confidence in sharing my knowledge with others, I am now proud to say I have found a teacher to help me build a canoe, as well as making some new friends with canoe builders!