Entry Detail

canoe birch, paper birch

Entry Type:  
Scientific Name:  
Common Name:  
canoe birch, paper birch
Myaamia Name:  
Harvest Seasons:  
Beech-Maple Forest, Oak Forest including Oak-Hickory, Beech-Oak-Maple Mixed Mesophytic

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Myaamia Archival Sources  
Reference Source Reference Type Archival Data Comments
Kenton, E. 1925 No Reference Specified

The Illinois village visited by Marquette in 1674 [situated just north of St. Louis, where the Mississinewa River enters the Wisconsin River] did not make their canoes from birch bark. "We take leave of our Illinois at the end of June, about three o'clock in the afternoon. We embark in the sight of all the people, who admire our little ["bark canoes" from Kenton 1925:336, in a list of equipment at the beginning of the trip], for they have never seen any like them".

Masthay, C. 2002 No Reference Specified

Canoes are made from birch bark.

Kellogg, L.P. 1923 No Reference Specified

Canoes are seldom made from birch bark. "A pirogue . . . This is a long sort of boat made of the trunk of a single tree. Canoes of bark are seldom made use of in these parts [northern Illinois around Fox River]".

Gatschet, A.S. ca. 1895 No Reference Specified

Birch canoes mentioned in the traditional story of Kapia.

American Museum of Natural History, New York No Reference Specified

There is a model canoe of Myaamia origin made of birch bark which is housed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Petersen, W. 1931 No Reference Specified

Used in processing lead ore, mined by hand from cliffs: "Later, other Indians learned to work deep mines by carrying down wood, building fires, pouring water on the heated rocks, and digging the mineral out with curiously improvised tools such as “buck horns, hoes, old gun-barrels and the like. Most of the labor was performed by the squaws, who drew out the ore thus extracted in birch-bark 'mococks’, and then placed it in a crude furnace built of logs, set fire to the whole, and as the lead melted and ran down, scraped out a place large enough for it to settle and form the large flat pieces, known as 'plats’, in which it was transported. Each of these bars weighed from thirty to seventy pounds, and hundreds of tons of lead were made by these crude methods.’’

McCafferty, M. 2003 No Reference Specified

In Miami-Illinois, "birch bark" is /wi:kwe:hsi/. The term for the tree was /wi:kwe:hsimi$i/. The term and related terms appear in the "Gravier" dictionary. The Miami did not use the bark for canoes; they only had a term for the tree, the bark and the canoes made from that bark; the term being from when they lived further northeast. 

Gravier dictionary references for birch: (Masthay's edition): 8ic8essi canot d'ecorce idem ecorce de boulau ("bark canoe, also birch bark") /wiikweehsi/ (p. 232). 8ic8essimingi bouleau arbre. This means: "birch, a (kind of) tree"/wiikweehsimi$i.  8ic8essing8eki canot de bois fait comme un canot d'ecorce "a wooden canoe made like a birchbark canoe" /wiikweehsiinkweeki, literally 'it-is-birchbark-face', i.e., it has the appearance of a birchbark canoe.



Botanical Sources  
Reference Source Reference Type Data Comments
Gleason, H.A. and Cronquist, A. 1991 Habitat 

Occurs as an pioneer species after disturbance (fire, flood, etc.) in moist or dry soils in the northern portions of eastern Myaamia lands, becoming more abundant further north.

Iverson, L., Prasad, A., Hale, B., Sutherland, E. 1998 Ecological Info 

The paper birch is a disturbance-adapted species found on cool, moist sites, often in conifer-hardwood forests. These species are not fire-dependent, but a strong pioneer after fire, sprouting from root collar in trees less than 50 years old.

Related Sources  
Reference Source Reference Type Data Comments
Kenton, E. 1925  

Father Dablon, traveling with Father Marquette, described "Kiskakon" tribal members who were travelling in the vicinity of the site where Father Marquette had died and was buried two years earlier (1675), near the shores of Lake Michigan, opened the grave, cleaned and dried the bones and put them in a box of birch bark to bring them to the Mission at St. Ignace where they belonged.

Climate Change Program Staff 2020  

The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission initiated a seed bank project to gather and store seeds of miinikaanan (Ojibway), paper birch, as a proactive response to the ongoing negative impacts of climate change and the emerald ash borer on the paper birch population.Seeds are being stored at the National Center for Resource Preservation in Colorado. 

Wrobel, A. 2015  

Anishinaabeg use the bark of birch trees (wiigwaasaatig) for winnow baskets for rice, baskets for gathering berries, and for making canoes. Trees are harvested from northern upland hardwood forests, lowland softwood forests, aspen forests and paper birch forests. Regarding harvesting: "Once a tree is selected, harvesters will often test the bark and make a small cut in order to check the thickness. The outer bark (the part to be harvested) is usually no more than 1/8 inch thick. At this point you should be able to tell if the bark is ready to come off. If the thickness is appropriate for its intended purpose and the bark is ready, the harvester will often remove a test strip. This test strip can be bent in all diretions to assess flexibility and check for potential weaknesses. Next harvesters will offer a gift of tobacco and words before continuing with the harvest, thanking this living relative for its gifts".

More details on the harvesting process are found in this article. – Michael Gonella
Bohman, Alexandra 2022  

Due to a noticed decline in paper birch tree population, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa are actively reforesting this species. Seeds were gathered and then spread in the winter to allow for natural, cold stratification of the seeds to increase germination rates in the spring. 

Masthay, C. 2002  

The Miami-Illinois word for birch bark, or for the canoe made from the birch bark, is wiikweehsi. The term wiikweehsiinkweeki describes a wooden canoe made like and with the appearance of a birch bark canoe, but not actually made from birch bark, and literally means it is birch bark faced.

Thwaites, R.G. (ed.) 1966  

It is possible that the Myaamia made birch-bark canoes considering the paper birch is present, although not abundant, in the ancestral Myaamia territory. One citation that argues against this possibility: "We took leave our Illinois around the end of June, around three o'clock in the afternoon, we embark in the sight of all the people, who admire our little canoes [made from birch bark], for they have never seen any like them" ("Nous prenons conge de nos Ilinois sur la fin de Juin, vers les trois heures spres midy, nous nous embarquons a la veue de tous ces peuples, qui admiroient nos petits Canots, n'en ayant jamais veu de semblables").

Dunn, J.P. 1908  

"The Miamis did not use birch-bark canoes, which the Algonquians usually called tci-maun, but they sometimes made canoes of hickory or elm bark. The name for these is la-kik-kwi-mis-so-li or bark canoe".