The Dogrib Birchbark Canoe Project
Keywords: Birches, Canoes, Design and construction, Dogrib Indians, Education, Elders, Traditional knowledge, Oral history, Spruces, Edzo, N.W.T.
AbstractThe Dogrib are one of the Athapaskan, or Dene groups occupying the Mackenzie Valley area in the Northwest Territories (see map). Their hunting canoes, though engineered for traversing a rugged landscape, had elegant and flowing lines. ... Although there is a reasonably good collection of archival photographs of Dogrib canoes, mostly due to the efforts of the anthropologist J. Alden Mason ..., the historical record has preserved little knowledge pertinent to canoe construction and use, and only a small number of canoes have survived in museum collections. During our recent archaeological research on two important Dogrib canoe routes, however, we recorded the remains of nearly 30 hunting canoes .... Today, in the Dogrib communities of Snare Lake, Rae Lakes, Wha Ti and Rae-Edzo, the oral tradition is full of canoeing and canoe-related stories and remembrances, although very few surviving elders actually built one in their youth. This fact, and the large number of canoes recorded in our research, gave us a new appreciation of the importance and role they had played in travel, and led to an exciting cultural revival project: to build and document a Dogrib birchbark canoe. ... [This article briefly describes the canoe project, sharing some of what the elders taught us about Dogrib hunting canoes.]