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Birch bark canoe project to be showcased at gallery

The project was completed by the Confederation College Embark Program in 2022.

THUNDER BAY – A project that was completed in Confederation College’s Embark program will be on display at Lakehead University.

A birch bark canoe, which was constructed by students with help from the Fort William Historical Park’s Indigenous Heritage Program in 2022, is one of the accepted submissions to an exhibition for the Lakehead Arts Integrated Research Centre at Lakehead University.

Photos from the canoe building project will be on display in Lakehead's Centre for Advanced Studies in Engineering and Sciences building alongside work by other local artists.

“It’s really cool to have the college and the students’ work on display in an environment like that,” said Alicia Brink, manager for the college's Embark program.

“I think the students will always look back on the memories of being part of this class and if they wanted to do something like this again, they have the tools, the photos and the drawings to go and re-create this on their own.”

The planning stages for the birch bark canoe, which is named Bigwaji-waabiwan after the Wildflower song, started in 2021.

Work on the project began in January 2022 and the canoe was launched and paddled down the McIntyre River in June of that year.

Student Nicholas Davis, who is now in the college's paramedic program, was part of the project and said it helped him toward his current career path.

“Initially, I knew I wanted to back to school, but I didn’t know what I wanted to go back for,” Davis said.

“When I came across the Indigenous pre-tech program, it helped me realize the different paths I could take. This was a necessary stepping stone for me in helping to figure out what I wanted to do eventually.”

Davis also said that the birch bark canoe project got him more connected to his Cree heritage.

“Growing up, I wasn’t really too connected with the culture in that kind of way,” Davis added.

“Having that connection now has definitely helped me. The way I mentally process things is a lot different and it was very calming and relaxing to be working with natural materials.

“It showed me different ways to help deal with stress and anxiety, which helps me in my current situation now.”

Fort William Historical Park Indigenous Heritage Program coordinator Elliott Cromarty said the birch bark canoe has taken on a bit of a life of its own since the project was finished.

“The construction of the canoe was a calling back to Indigenous people to our traditional skills and knowledge,” Cromarty said.

“It’s also demonstrated that Indigenous knowledge systems have a place in the classroom. This knowledge has existed since time immemorial and it is still prevalent to this day.”

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