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Nelson -

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The Politics of the Canoe: Activism and Resistance

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Omàmìwininì or Mamiwinnini people, also known as Algonquin, have lived in the watershed of the Ottawa River (the Kiji Sìbì, or Kichisippi) for thousands of years. There is archaeological evidence of Indigenous peoples living in the territory from at least 10,000 years ago.1 It is likely that people moved to this area as soon as the glaciers retreated from the area between Lake Champlain (south of Montreal, in what is now Vermont) and Lake Huron. Algonquin histories show that Algonquin territory covered much of what is now eastern Ontario and western Quebec, long before the territory was divided by colonial governments into those two provinces. Our chapter focuses on teachings surrounding the building of an Algonquin-style birchbark canoe. These teachings are connected with the revitalization of Algonquin practices and communities as well as with reconciliation; as other chapters in this book also demonstrate, these practice- based teachings have important links to family and community, legal traditions, language, and relationships with land. Currently, birchbark canoe building is an important part of efforts to move toward both reconciliation and resurgence in Algonquin and other Indigenous communities. The canoe, being such an iconic symbol in Canada, also provides a means for people across cultures to connect with one other. Projects involving the canoe bring people together in a unique way; the canoe acts like a magnet for people of all ages and backgrounds, offering a chance for them to connect, share stories, and learn about one another in the context of a highly skilled Algonquin community practice.


This chapter coauthored by University of Nebraska at Omaha's Dr. Sarah E. Nelson appears in the book The Politics of the Canoe: activism and Resistance published by the University of Manitoba Press has been deposited with permission and can be accessed at