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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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"Wilderness Skills of Our Ancestors" Demonstration Offers Insight Into Past
by Joseph V. Sowmick - Photojournalist
credits: photos by Joseph V. Sowmick
Ziibiwing Visitor Services Representative Raymond Cadotte (left) receives some personal instruction from workshop presenter Jim Miller.
A packed Ziibiwing Center conference room full of workshop participants watches Miller share some pre-1800’s technology.

"The Wilderness Skills of Our Ancestors" demonstration on Feb. 20 at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways provided a packed room of participants with some indigenous knowledge and offered insight into the past.

Jim Miller of Willow Winds gave a spirited interactive demonstration that featured multimedia and some handson opportunities to learn about the tools and products used back in the day.

"This is what we do and it's our roots and our history," Miller said. "From canoes to tanning hides and starting fires, we get to put our hands on those things that give us life. When you are making a birch bark basket, it is one thing to sit in the classroom and read about it, but when you dig around the roots and smell the earth and when you can feel and smell the bark, it wakes up our senses. The beginning for me was about touching those senses."

Throughout the past several years, he has become a highly sought after lecturer and instructor. His traditional demonstrations breathe life into indigenous history and are featured regularly at special events around the country.

Miller has tanned buckskins for several movies including "Thunderheart", "The Indian in My Cupboard", "Last of the Dogmen" and "A Will of Their Own".

Birch bark baskets, traditional Indian villages and canoes, created by Miller in the woodland Indian design, have been featured at several museums and cultural centers around Michigan and across the United States, including historic Ft. Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, Mich. and Cranbrook Institute of Arts and Science in Bloomfield, Mich.

Miller has done authentic wigwam and village construction for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center, Cranbrook Institute of Art and Science and the Chippewa Nature Center.

Miller has also offered presentations for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Bahweting School and also at Ferris State University in Big Rapids.

His television credits include a NBC mini-series "A Will of Their Own", and appearance in Michigan Magazine, Michigan Out-ofDoors and Outdoor Magazine. SCIT Tribal Member and Native artist Ellie Mitchell found the whole workshop interesting and captivating.

"(Miller) packed a lot of knowledge into the two-hour demonstration. The knowledge shared just goes to show our ancestors were geniuses," Mitchell said. "To manage to thrive and survive in the wilderness along with keeping our territories and beating back enemies is exceptional. Learning about tree roots and the tanning process is something we don't get in school."

Little River Band of Ottawa Tribal Elder and Native artist Shirley Brauker has worked with Miller for five years at the Indian Village Camp in Manistee, Mich. and was excited to see him at SCIT.

"You can see that Jim is respectful in the way he treats all his materials: He began with smudging the room and it shows he works in a reverent kind of manner," Brauker said. "I think it's valuable for all the Tribal Members to see some of our ancient customs and tradition that were handed down over time."

Miller continues to teach classes and demonstrate traditional wilderness skills at camps, nature centers, museums and schools throughout the state and around the country.

On June 15-19, Miller and his Willow Winds staff are offering a comprehensive traditional wilderness skills camp at their northern Michigan, location at 962 F-30, Mikado, Michigan, 48745.

For more information on the camp or how to schedule an on-site demonstration, please call 989-736-3487 or access Miller's website at

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Traditional Skills Workshops!
Outdoorsman and writer, Jim Miller is one of the nation's leading advocates of the study and application of traditional wilderness skills and crafts. The Port Huron, Michigan native discovered the beauty and essence of the natural world at an early age and has spent countless hours studying the skills of our ancestors in woods, fields, and streams throughout the Great Lakes region.

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