was an opportunity for youth to learn more about their heritage
From left to right: Will
Truttenbach, Troy Pavis, Avaline Booth, Adison Evans, Appi
Kumaluk, Chuck Commanda. Together, the five Indigenous students
and Commanda built a birch bark canoe in a wood shop at John
F. Ross Collegiate Vocational Institute in Guelph, Ont. (Tiffany
Five Indigenous students from the Upper Grand District School Board
(UGDSB) have built a handmade birch bark canoe and paddled it on
the Speed River.
Mentored by longtime canoe builder Chuck Commanda, it took the
students nine days working seven hours a day to craft
the vessel. They used natural materials including spruce root, birch
bark, cedar, ironwood and oak.
Commanda is an Algonquin Master Canoe Builder who hails from Kitigan-Zibi,
Que. He is one of the few remaining people who continues to build
birch canoes, traditional snowshoes and baskets.
He's kept the tradition alive for many years by visiting schools
and museums to educate and share with community members important
Indigenous cultures and traditions.
Chuck Commanda is an
Algonquin Master Canoe Builder who hails from Kitigan-Zibi,
Que. He is one of the few remaining people who continues to
build birch canoes, traditional snowshoes and baskets. (Tiffany
"The message I got from my ancestors from beyond was to bring it
back to the communities," said Commanda.
Because his parents attended residential schools, there was a gap
in passing along traditional knowledge. Instead, Commanda said he
learned these skills from his grandparents.
"My grandparents, they continued that tradition from their parents
and so on," he said. "I was one of 12 grandchildren that took it
seriously, I became their helper. I was about 12 years old when
I first started learning."
Commanda recalls his grandparents teaching him the value of harvesting,
giving back to mother nature and sustainability. Today as he continues
to pass down these teachings across Ontario, he finds younger generations
are eager to be stewards of the land and protect it.
"I figured these kids can champion their local politician or at
some point. Maybe we're looking at a future prime minister, or future
environmental minister," he said.
"These words that we talk about when we're doing a canoe build
will resonate with them later on in life."
Cedar was used for the
inside of the canoe, pictured are Commanda and Kumaluk. (Submitted
by Colinda Clyne )
Spruce root was used
to make the threading on the canoe. (Submitted by Colinda
This spruce gum was collected
by the students and used on the outer parts of the canoe to
prevent leaking. (Submitted by Colinda Clyne)
The group spent seven
hours each day constructing the life-size canoe, all while
using traditional Algonquin knowledge, building techniques
and material. (Submitted by Colinda Clyne )
Final product of the
birch bark canoe at Eramosa River, after the launch Wednesday.
Students value preserving ancestry
For the students, the experience was more than just building a
canoe, it was about learning more about their heritage and seeing
the importance of preserving it.
"It feels so important to me to be able to go back to my original,
traditional ways and [learn] these things as an Indigenous person,"
said Avaline Booth, 15, a high-school student from Centre Wellington
District High School.
"I feel very honoured to be a part of this because it's traditional
to who I am and it's just been like a great community [of] people
that I've been able to meet and get to know and now, I'm so close
to them," she said.
Avaline Booth, 15, from
Centre Wellington District High School, enjoys her canoe ride
with Algonquin Master Canoe Builder Chuck Commanda. (Tiffany
For Adison Evans, who is going into Grade 10 at John F. Ross, the
canoe is symbolic; it was her ancestors' only mode of transportation
"We need to remember that our ancestors could only travel in that
way and how important it was to them, so it should still be important
to us," she said.
"It's not about the canoe, it's about the teachings that came with
the canoe and that's why it's so valuable to me."
Colinda Clyne, Anishinaabe Kwi also from Kitigan-Zibi, Que., said
she was emotional when the first student got in the canoe because
as curriculum lead for First Nations, Métis and Inuit education
at the school board, it's her role to create these opportunities
for students in the community.
Colinda Clyne, curriculum
lead for First Nations, Métis and Inuit education at
the UGDSB, settles in for a ride in the students' handmade
canoe. (Tiffany Mongu/CBC)
"This is their birthright to have access to this knowledge and
it doesn't happen in the system. My job is to try and make that
happen for them. It filled my heart."
More learning opportunities needed
Booth said the project made her realize the importance of traditional
Indigenous practices, and how vital it is for the school system
to educate children about their Indigenous heritage.
"The school system right now, I find, is extremely colonized, ...
It's not inclusive of other cultures," she said. "I feel it's extremely
important to decolonize that system to go back and teach Indigenous
children about where they come from and who they are."
Natalka Pucan, co-chair of the First Nations, Métis and
Inuit Education Association of Ontario told CBC News that all
Canadians should learn about the events that occurred in residential
schools, since it's a matter of intergenerational grief, loss
and trauma that continues to affect people in profound ways.
"Our kids are empathetic, and if we teach them the true history
of this country, they'll help find a better way," she said. "We
owe it to our kids to help them understand what happened in this
Clyne said the project was an opportunity to give the students
access to traditional knowledge.
"I don't want the students to just go back to their schools, and
this is the only Indigenous opportunity that they have," she said.
"I'm hoping that all of their teachers see this and then they start
looking at how they might also include Indigenous content in all
of their courses that they're taking."