Wabanaki technology brought to life through DRA/Lincoln Academy partnership

Posted:  Thursday, April 6, 2017 - 11:15am

The Native American Wabanaki tribes, or “People of the Dawnland,” have inhabited the coastal and riverine environment of this region for at least the last 12,000 years. Their primary means of transportation, the birchbark canoe, is a reflection of their intimate knowledge of the woods and waters through which they traveled. The superbly adapted craft is sturdy and flexible enough to be handled offshore or on the big lakes, yet light enough to be carried by one person.

This month Damariscotta River Association (DRA) and Lincoln Academy are offering a special program to construct a birchbark canoe using traditional Wabanaki methods, with master boatbuilder Steve Cayard and two interns, Dan Asher and Tobias Francis.

The canoe is currently under construction at Lincoln Academy’s Applied Technology and Education Center (ATEC), where students can participate in the building process throughout the month as their class schedules allow.

Cayard builds birchbark canoes in the traditional style of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet builders of Maine and New Brunswick dating from the early- to mid-1800s. The boatbuilder has spent years gleaning information from research on old canoes in museums, old photos, and written accounts. He works closely with native groups, sharing building techniques to help revitalize this traditional craft.

The construction process includes soaking and steaming the cedar ribs and birch bark skin to bend them into shape, stitching pieces of birchbark together with split spruce root, weighting the gunwale frame to create the right curvature, installing planking and ribs, and fitting the headboards. Each step uses technology the Wabanaki would have used, with very little help from modern manufactured tools.

“The idea behind the project is to help connect students to the local landscape through hands-on experience with natural, native resources,” said Sarah Gladu, Education Director at the DRA. “We are extremely fortunate to have a community that fully supports this endeavor, bringing Lincoln Academy, DRA, and skilled craftspeople together to benefit local students. Seeing a project like this come together is a rare chance to experience our local history.”

“Sharing this process with the students is one way to preserve and sustain this traditional craft, which so perfectly combines the talents of humanity with the gifts of the forest,” reflected Cayard.

Members of the public are invited to stop by from 2:30 to 5 p.m. any weekday beginning on Monday, April 3, with the exception of Thursday afternoons, to ask questions and witness the process, which is expected to be completed by the end of April.

DRA has active programs in the areas of land conservation, stewardship, community education, water quality monitoring, marine conservation and cultural preservation. For more information call 207-563-1393, email dra@damariscottariver.org, or visitwww.damariscottariver.org.