Kingston Indigenous students learn more about their past by building canoe

Click to play video: 'High school students go back to their roots' High school students go back to their roots
Students at the Katarokwi Learning Centre are learning to build a birch bark canoe from scratch – Oct 24, 2018

Indigenous high school students at Katarokwi Learning Centre in Kingston are being taught an important part of their heritage by learning how to build a birch bark canoe.

READ MORE: Peterborough teacher incorporates Gord Downie’s ‘Secret Path’ for Indigenous history lessons

The two-week-long project is scheduled to wrap up later this week.

Evan Veryard, founder and chair of Focus Forward for Indigenous Youth, says the current undertaking is about teaching invaluable lessons.

“You’re passing on this traditional knowledge that’s at risk of being forgotten and so being able to pass that along and bring recognition to it is a really great opportunity,” Veryard said.

Linda Matthews is one of the instructors teaching students how to build the canoe. She says it’s cool to do things “old school,” and this group of students is certainly doing things the old-fashioned way: everything is being crafted by hand. Even the tools and knives are handmade.

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In fact, all of the materials used have come straight from the bush. Black spruce roots are being used for lashing, which will hold the canoe together.

“We do all of our root work wet so that when we attach it on to the canoe, it’ll tighten up when it dries out,” said Alphonse Trudeau, an apprentice canoe builder. “It’ll get really dry and tight, and the friction keeps it all together.”

READ MORE: CHEX Daily gets a lesson in building a traditional Gitigan Ziibi-style birch bark canoe

Grade 11 student Emma Carroll is helping to build the canoe. She says it takes a lot of patience and time as well as “good energy.”

The finished product will be on display before it’s officially launched this Sunday at a rural sustainability centre near Elgin, north of Kingston.

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