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Program connects native master artists with apprentices, keeping culture alive in Lac du FlambeauSubmitted: 08/08/2019
Story By Ben Meyer

Program connects native master artists with apprentices, keeping culture alive in Lac du Flambeau
LAC DU FLAMBEAU - Only five Master Builders of traditional Ojibwe birchbark canoes remain in the United States.

Two of them are in Lac du Flambeau.

But those two aren't just builders. They're teachers of tradition and culture.

In seven days, Wayne Valliere Sr.'s 32nd traditional Ojibwe canoe will be ready for launch.

"The best part of these canoes is working with the younger people," Valliere said.

This week, Valliere is working with four apprentices, preparing bark, pitch, and roots.


The materials hold a tribal meaning.

Alone, each is weak. Together, they're strong.

"The teaching for the Anishinaabe, and all people in the world is being together, helping one another," Valliere said. "Helping one another, we all become stronger, no matter what our race is, what our creed is, what our gender is. By working together, we all become strong."

"Our culture is a living culture here in this territory," said April Lindala.

Lindala is a professor at Northern Michigan University. This summer, she was hired as the Gekendaasowin Learning Village Project Coordinator, pairing master artists with young apprentices.

"Learning our culture is so valuable because there have been so many efforts for the learning to stop, the voices to be erased, the language to be annihilated," Lindala said. "Being able to see these kind of arts rejuvenated, revitalized, is going to help tell that story of an ancient culture for years and years to come."

Along with teaching his craft, Valliere reverses the loss of language, using and teaching Ojibwe as he goes.

Valliere says the canoes make the builders, like their traditions, timeless.

"These canoes carry so much culture," Valliere said. "It would be a shame to have that torch in our community go dim, and worse yet, go out."

Also in Lac du Flambeau this summer, Greg Johnson is working with apprentices. He's teaching the art of making cradleboards for babies.

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