Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan: These Canoes Carry Culture--Birch Bark Canoe Launch Nov. 21, 2013 at 3 p.m.

The intergenerational, intercultural, environmental arts project Wiigwaasi-Jiimaan: These Canoes Carry
will reach its completion with a public canoe launching, Thursday,
November 21, 2013, at 3:00 pm, at the future site of the UW Alumni Park, on the
shores of Lake Mendota, beside the UW Memorial Union. 
The project has been supported by the
Windgate Foundation, the Wisconsin Humanities Council, The UW Office of the Vice
Provost and Chief Diversity Officer, the Brittingham Foundation, the
Collaborative Center for Health Equity, the Department of Art, the Department
of Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies, the American Indian Studies
Program, the Wunk Sheek student organization, the Center for the Study of Upper
Midwestern Cultures, Goodman Community Center and the ENVISION program of the Lac du Flambeau school

 The innovative project brought Wayne Valliere (Mino-giizhig), of
the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians to the UW campus to
construct a traditional Ojibwe birchbark canoe, a tool and object of beauty
known in Ojibwe language as wiigwaasi-jiimaan. Mr. Valliere is an artist and
Ojibwe language and culture educator at Lac du Flambeau Public School on the
Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation in northern Wisconsin. His residency in the
Art Department began in September, but the harvesting and preparations for the
canoe began as early as last spring.  The
canoe launching will represent the culmination of hundreds of hours of careful
preparation and work.

Central to the project was the involvement of youth from the Lac
du Flambeau Reservation as well as from the Goodman Community Center in
Madison. Students helped in the harvest and processing of the materials for the
canoe—white cedar, birch bark, spruce roots, and pine pitch—and assisted Mr.
Valliere and University of Wisconsin students and faculty in the canoe’s construction at the Wood Shop of
the University of Wisconsin Art Department, on the top floor of the Humanities
Building on the UW campus.

Tom Loeser, chair of the Art Department, was pivotal in planning
and realizing Mr. Valliere’s
work here in Madison. With the help of the Windgate Foundation, the Art
Department established a series to bring practicing artists to the
Wood/Furniture Shop to share their skills with department students and staff.
Mr. Valliere is one of ten such visitors brought to campus over the last
several years. Loeser states: “We see the residency as a way to highlight
alternative ways and understandings of materials and ways to generate
form.  Having visitors like Wayne on
campus enhances our curriculum by exposing students to novel ways of generating
objects, ways that they may not have encountered before.”  Both graduate and undergraduate art students
have participated in the harvesting and construction process.

Tim Frandy, outreach specialist at the UW Collaborative Center
for Health Equity has also been closely involved in the project from its
outset. According to Frandy: “This project brings the University and Native
community members together under the common cause of improving the health and
well-being of youth. Not only does the project offer the youth who are involved
a healthy dose of physical exercise, it also advances students’ cultural and social well-being.  It encourages them to participate in
activities that strengthen the traditional culture and sense of identity in
their communities.”

Students from the Goodman Community Center’s Seed to Table program have also
collaborated on the project. Seed to Table is an innovative education program
focusing on urban agriculture and culinary arts. As Keith Pollock of the
Goodman Community Center explains, the Seed to Table program focuses on natural
products and has a strong multicultural focus, making the birch bark canoe
project a natural interest. Goodman students will share in a traditional Ojibwe
feast prepared by the Lac du Flambeau students and teachers on the day of the

Students of the Department of Comparative Literature and Folklore
Studies (CLFS) have helped in the harvesting and construction of the canoe as
well.  They have also produced a film
record of the building process, sharing images and video with the public daily
on a Facebook page and website that they designed
According to CLFS professor Tom DuBois, the project fits well with the
ideals of public humanities and engaged research.  “We are helping create and document an
artwork that not only celebrates but sustains Ojibwe culture in our
state. This canoe reminds us of the central importance of birch bark canoes of
this kind in the history of our region. 
But the project also demonstrates the vibrant Native cultural traditions
that are alive and well in our state today.” The website and Facebook page have
attracted thousands of visitors, some from as far away as Alaska, Australia,
Japan, and Finland, and reflect the UW’s ongoing commitment to humanistic research that reaches far beyond
the walls of the University’s
classrooms and facilities.

Wayne Valliere sees the canoe project as a way to pass on Ojibwe
heritage to a new generation.  Valliere
first began learning about canoe building from an Ojibwe elder when he was only
fourteen years old. His fascination with the art and ingenuity of his ancestors
led to a lifelong passion to preserve and pass on the traditions of his
people.  “I’ve made my life about keeping our
traditional ways, and bringing back our traditional ways, so that they will be
a part of our tribe’s life in
coming generations. “  At the same time,
Wayne has been eager to share his people’s traditions with the many people who visit the wood shop daily to
check on the progress of the canoe or who follow the process via the Internet.  As he notes: “A lot of people from a lot of
different cultures have helped on this canoe, and that is important.”

The planned launching is free and open to the public. Members of
the public will be able to view the canoe, meet its makers, and observe and
participate in the ceremonies that prepare it for its maiden voyage.

For further information, contact Tom Loeser (tloeser@wisc.edu) or
Tom DuBois (tadubois@wisc.edu).

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