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Mi’kmaq craftsperson to teach birch bark canoe building in Millbrook


TRURO, N.S. – A master Mi’kmaq craftsperson is going to build a birch bark canoe with four interns in Millbrook to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Todd Labrador of the Wildcat Reserve in Lunenburg County will spend six weeks at the Millbrook Cultural Centre this summer showing four young people how to build a traditional Mi’kmaq lake canoe.

“You can’t learn everything about building a canoe in six weeks, but I will show them the process,” says Labrador. “For example, splitting spruce roots: I need to harvest and prepare about 700 feet of spruce roots – it takes weeks and months of practice to develop that skill. We’ll spend a day harvesting roots and I’ll go through the process of splitting the roots and they'll be able to work on that on their own.”

Labrador will harvest the roots, bark and various bits of wood for this canoe in advance but will go through each step with the youth and have them help put it all together.

The public will also be able to watch the construction of the 16-foot canoe at the cultural centre but Labrador will focus on teaching the interns.

[RELATED:

 A canoe for Bear River: Labrador builds birch bark canoe for Seven Paddles project, July 2016

Mi’kmaq canoe built in Keji headed for national museum in Ottawa, July 2016]

A few things set a Mi’kmaq canoe apart from other aboriginal canoes: the low rounded bow and stern, the single gunwhales and the gunwhale stitching that runs the whole length of the canoe with no gaps.

Labrador’s great grandfather built birch bark canoes in the region around Kejimkujik in southwestern Nova Scotia, and Labrador’s father Charlie remembered watching that process and was able to teach parts of it, like gathering and preparing spruce roots and harvesting birch bark.

Labrador has slowly added to his knowledge through conversations with elders, by examining old canoes, old photographs and from reading.

Labrador also visited other aboriginal canoe builders in Ontario and worked with and studied under them. He built his first birch bark canoe in 2004 and has been experimenting and learning ever since.

Labrador has built 11 birch bark canoes. As someone who worked hard to revive and rediscover the traditional Mi’kmaq art, Labrador hopes this program will be the start of more canoe building in Mi'kma'ki or the lands where the Mi’kmaq live.

“Hopefully this will spark some interest and we can keep this thing going,” he said. “It would be nice to do this every year – some people can learn from watching once, some people can learn from a book, but for most people they need to watch someone build several canoes before it really sticks.”

The Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq is currently accepting applications for the four spots from status Mi’kmaw between the ages of 16 and 35.

The Mi’kmaw Birch Bark Canoe Builder Live Exhibit and Youth Apprentice Program gets underway June 5 at the Millbrook Cultural Centre and runs until July 14.

In demand for Canada’s 150th

Mi’kmaq master builder Todd Labrador has a busy schedule this summer helping with celebrations for Canada’s 150th in several locations.

He will be holding several drum making workshops before the building a birch bark canoe with four apprentices in Millbrook in June. He will be demonstrating canoe building at the Grand Pre National Historic site as well, he will be in Halifax for National Aboriginal Day and for the Tallships celebrations. And he will be in Charlottetown for four days to build a birch bark wigwam.

The wigwam will be 11-feet high, with 14 poles inside and another 30 to 40 poles outside holding down the 260 square feet of bark. Labrador will prepare about 700 feet of spruce root to stitch and tie various parts of the wigwam together.

He says his Mi’kmaq ancestors would have rolled up the bark and carried it on their backs from site to site but the poles were left behind.

jonathan.riley@tc.tc

Canoe building internship qualifications

Status Mi’kmaw

Preference to mainland Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw community members

Between the ages of 16 and 35

Complete the application form and essay

Todd Labrador of the Wildcat Reserve in Lunenburg County will spend six weeks at the Millbrook Cultural Centre this summer showing four young people how to build a traditional Mi’kmaq lake canoe.

“You can’t learn everything about building a canoe in six weeks, but I will show them the process,” says Labrador. “For example, splitting spruce roots: I need to harvest and prepare about 700 feet of spruce roots – it takes weeks and months of practice to develop that skill. We’ll spend a day harvesting roots and I’ll go through the process of splitting the roots and they'll be able to work on that on their own.”

Labrador will harvest the roots, bark and various bits of wood for this canoe in advance but will go through each step with the youth and have them help put it all together.

The public will also be able to watch the construction of the 16-foot canoe at the cultural centre but Labrador will focus on teaching the interns.

[RELATED:

 A canoe for Bear River: Labrador builds birch bark canoe for Seven Paddles project, July 2016

Mi’kmaq canoe built in Keji headed for national museum in Ottawa, July 2016]

A few things set a Mi’kmaq canoe apart from other aboriginal canoes: the low rounded bow and stern, the single gunwhales and the gunwhale stitching that runs the whole length of the canoe with no gaps.

Labrador’s great grandfather built birch bark canoes in the region around Kejimkujik in southwestern Nova Scotia, and Labrador’s father Charlie remembered watching that process and was able to teach parts of it, like gathering and preparing spruce roots and harvesting birch bark.

Labrador has slowly added to his knowledge through conversations with elders, by examining old canoes, old photographs and from reading.

Labrador also visited other aboriginal canoe builders in Ontario and worked with and studied under them. He built his first birch bark canoe in 2004 and has been experimenting and learning ever since.

Labrador has built 11 birch bark canoes. As someone who worked hard to revive and rediscover the traditional Mi’kmaq art, Labrador hopes this program will be the start of more canoe building in Mi'kma'ki or the lands where the Mi’kmaq live.

“Hopefully this will spark some interest and we can keep this thing going,” he said. “It would be nice to do this every year – some people can learn from watching once, some people can learn from a book, but for most people they need to watch someone build several canoes before it really sticks.”

The Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq is currently accepting applications for the four spots from status Mi’kmaw between the ages of 16 and 35.

The Mi’kmaw Birch Bark Canoe Builder Live Exhibit and Youth Apprentice Program gets underway June 5 at the Millbrook Cultural Centre and runs until July 14.

In demand for Canada’s 150th

Mi’kmaq master builder Todd Labrador has a busy schedule this summer helping with celebrations for Canada’s 150th in several locations.

He will be holding several drum making workshops before the building a birch bark canoe with four apprentices in Millbrook in June. He will be demonstrating canoe building at the Grand Pre National Historic site as well, he will be in Halifax for National Aboriginal Day and for the Tallships celebrations. And he will be in Charlottetown for four days to build a birch bark wigwam.

The wigwam will be 11-feet high, with 14 poles inside and another 30 to 40 poles outside holding down the 260 square feet of bark. Labrador will prepare about 700 feet of spruce root to stitch and tie various parts of the wigwam together.

He says his Mi’kmaq ancestors would have rolled up the bark and carried it on their backs from site to site but the poles were left behind.

jonathan.riley@tc.tc

Canoe building internship qualifications

Status Mi’kmaw

Preference to mainland Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw community members

Between the ages of 16 and 35

Complete the application form and essay

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