Building a birch bark canoe - Understanding a different way of knowing

This presentation is a story about how Sandra Mayberry’s grade six students, their parents and volunteers built an authentic fifteen foot, birch bark canoe - an ancient and sustainable form of technology.

The birch bark canoe has a storied past in the woodland regions of Canada. As part of the Ontario grade six Social Studies curriculum on Aboriginal People, Sandra integrated the birch bark canoe project with lessons in environmental/sustainability education.

Sandra has deep concerns for the negative effects of diminished opportunities for children to experience the natural world, its wonders and its lessons for building healthy, respectful and fulfilling physical, mental and spiritual relationships with the Earth. With today’s growing ecological crisis and the marginalization and extinction of Indigenous wisdom for living sustainably on the planet, this innovative project served several purposes.

This project was not just about building a canoe. It was about building relationships and understanding. The involvement of the local First Nation community was very important. Students, parents and volunteers witnessed the traditional teachings and heard the stories of a culture that is closely connected to the local landscape. Aboriginal non-Aboriginal and participants worked together in discovering building the birch bark canoe by reading books, searching the internet and talking to elders. All in all, a diverse group of people came together and discovered many wonderful things about history, technology, the Earth, Aboriginal culture, non-Aboriginal culture and the connections of all this to the importance of environmental/sustainability education and the future of our lives on the planet.

Sandra’s presentation takes the form of a power point show with the canoe displayed, some raw materials for demonstration, photos, questioning and discussion.

The emphasis is on the importance of integrating Aboriginal perspectives into environmental education and understanding the associated sensitivities as evidenced by this project. Emphasis is also on the fact that these types of projects help to broaden the possibilities for finding solutions to world environmental problems because they help us to examine alternative knowledge systems, worldviews and ways of being on this Earth.