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home : community : features August 27, 2015

8/31/2012 4:06:00 AM
Keeping culture and traditions alive for future generations
Wayne Valliere built a birch bark canoe, participated in Tribal Canoe Journey on the Salish Sea
Standing in front of the finished birch bark canoe are Wayne Valliere (second from the right) and his family, (from the left) daughter Animiikiikaa, “The Sound of the Thunder”; wife Giitaagaabawiik, “Standing Around the Outside of Woman”; daughter Aaniikiigamaakwe, “Woman Standing Between Two Lakes”; daughter Memashkwegaabawiik, “Very Strong Standing Woman”; and son Ojaaniimiigiizhigweb, “Busy Going Across the Sky, Sits Down and Thinks.” Unavailable for the family photograph was Valliere’s older son, Namaanakwad, “Clouds Underneath.”Tim Frandy photograph 

Standing in front of the finished birch bark canoe are Wayne Valliere (second from the right) and his family, (from the left) daughter Animiikiikaa, “The Sound of the Thunder”; wife Giitaagaabawiik, “Standing Around the Outside of Woman”; daughter Aaniikiigamaakwe, “Woman Standing Between Two Lakes”; daughter Memashkwegaabawiik, “Very Strong Standing Woman”; and son Ojaaniimiigiizhigweb, “Busy Going Across the Sky, Sits Down and Thinks.” Unavailable for the family photograph was Valliere’s older son, Namaanakwad, “Clouds Underneath.”

Tim Frandy photograph 

Wayne Valliere (left) and Silvia Hall of the First Nation Ontario embark on the maiden voyage in the birch bark canoe he built in Lac du Flambeau and finished with other tribes in Washington state.Contributed photograph 

Wayne Valliere (left) and Silvia Hall of the First Nation Ontario embark on the maiden voyage in the birch bark canoe he built in Lac du Flambeau and finished with other tribes in Washington state.

Contributed photograph 

LdF youth remembers the old ways in Ojibwe art
By Joyce Laabs
Sept. 17, 1981

What does it mean to be an Indian? For some, it doesn’t mean anything, a label they would like to drop. Increasingly the young Native American is seeking to integrate into white society at the expense of his or her heritage. 

Or they try to assimilate by becoming the Indian the white man reckons with in television westerns. 

A diverse and rich culture is rapidly becoming lost, in just a few generations, in the rush to conform.

A few concerned organizations and individuals are helping interested young Indians become aware of and proud of their heritage. In the Lac du Flambeau area, there are several outstanding young persons who continue tribal traditions through art. 

Wayne Valliere is one such artist. 

The first thing that strikes you about Wayne is his enthusiasm; it’s contagious. It leaps out at you as he talks about his art and his tribal culture. The second thing you notice is his family, supportive and proud. It’s a pride shared by all of the family, a pride of being a talented young Indian, declaring his heritage through art. 

Wayne is a junior in high school. He’s already won several awards, and had two items featured in the American Indian Student Art Contest calendar, displaying traditional Indian arts. His skill seems to be inborn; he’s never had an art class in his life. Instead, he has been taught in the old ways, with tradition and craft passed on to him by family members and friends. One day, Wayne will pass his knowledge on to another. In the meantime, he is content to work with his buddy, Charley Snodgrass. 

Wayne and Charley are unashamedly good friends and co-workers. Their major project is a birch bark kayak, which won first place in the traditional arts contest. No modern tools or materials were used in its construction. The birch slats were stitched together with spruce roots when the wood was moist and green. “When the wood is moist, it’s flexible and bends easily. When the sun hits them, they tighten and grab like a clamp. It’s stronger than leather,” Wayne says.

The gunnels are also bound by spruce roots. A tar-like concoction of spruce gum, oak coals and deer fat provide water proofing for the seams. 

His fish carving also claimed a first in the traditional arts contest. They are carved out of wood with the identifying markings burned in after they have been sanded smooth. Wayne has quite a collection of bass, pike and perch. He tells the history behind them. “The Indians would jig the lure through a hole in the ice. The tale is curved so that it will swim in a circle, and the body is weighted with lead. A big musky would make on pass by the lure, and on the second pass the Indian would spear him.”

He also carves wood decoys, and will have several pieces at the Northwoods Decoy Show and Sale this month. 

Wayne has a versatile command of several mediums. He creates art from his Indian heritage. An example is a pen and ink drawing of an Ojibwe Indian, the tribe Wayne belongs to. “The clans wore headdresses for style and festivities. The man in the drawing is wearing a ghost shirt. Men wore them into battles thinking it had a special power to help them be stronger.”

One of his more ambitious projects is a peace pipe. Carved with a knife, its swirls and designs reveal the natural coloring of the sumac. The golden tones run to dark and light browns, and the grain runs with the swirls around the stem.

“The swirls indicate a happy time,” Wayne explains. Drawing on a piece of uncarved pipestone, he illustrates his example. “When an Indian was happy, he danced clockwise around the drum. So the swirls go clockwise around my pipe. The four notches (near the mouthpiece) indicate the wind and the four directions, north, south, east and west.”

He carved the bowl from pipestone. When you rub your hand along the smooth surface, it’s hard to believe it was carved with a knife.

“I don’t believe in a lot of sophisticated tools,” Wayne says. “Indians didn’t have tools years ago.” Wayne has helped instruct one of the Title VII pipe carving workshops.


Wayne has been interested in art since a young boy. “When other kids were outside doing stuff, I was working on a project. When my parents would ask me what I was doing, I’d say, ‘I’m building a canoe!’ And they’d look outside and there I was, building a canoe. My parents were very supportive.”

He got his first real exposure to Indian arts and culture during the Title VII workshops held at the Lac du Flambeau grade school.

“At first, as a little guy, it was a hobby, to make something. But just being around them guys really influenced me,” Wayne says. He cites Bill Baker, and Ernie St. Germaine of the Wisconsin Woodland Indian Project as two mentors. “They’d teach me something like a song, a legend or a craft, and they’d say, ‘that’s the way we did it a long time ago. Now it’s on your shoulders. You have to pass it on, so the culture won’t die.’”

Unfortunately, the Title VII program at the Lac du Flambeau grade school ended last year, the victim of federal budget cuts. Wayne found it a worthwhile experience, attributing that influence to his own success. “I think more people should be pushed to do it,” he says. In the meantime, the Indian language and other elements of the tribal cultures are being irretrievably lost. 

One of Wayne’s watercolors portrays an Indian ritual. He calls it “To Seek a Vision,” and it recaptures the induction into manhood. “When an Indian is 16, he’s about to enter manhood,” Wayne explains. “To know what he was going to do in his lifetime, a young Indian would seek a guide. He would enter the woods with only a knife, fasting for 5-7 days and drinking only water. He would stay there until he saw his vision.”

The vision in the painting is of a shadowy eagle, carrying the young man away.

Like the young man in the painting, Wayne goes his own way. About his art work, he says, “It satisfies me. It takes me away.”

Wayne has no plans to attend art school. Though open to criticism, he wants to develop his own style. He will continue to learn from his elders and friends, developing a style that speaks for his culture. On the brink of manhood, he, too, is seeking a vision. 

The late Joyce Laabs, a features editor with The Lakeland Times for more than two decades, wrote this article in 1981.

Sarah Hirsch
Features editor

Born with a white streak in his hair, Wayne Valliere’s full-blooded Ojibwe grandmother said that he would “become an elder of knowledge before his time.”

He continued tribal traditions through art as a child, winning several awards for his work. His skill was not taught in a classroom; it was passed down from family members and friends. 

Now, as an adult, he is passing down the knowledge that he was taught by tribal elders. Valliere helped create the Ojibwe language program, is the Ojibwe language and culture instructor for the Lac du Flambeau Tribe, and also assisted in the creation of the Ojibwe Winter Games for Native American youth.

“This journey of culture that I’ve been on, one thing has led to the next. I started out when I was young ... listening to my elders and participating at ceremonies, and I created these paintings and drawings of our people, their tools and weapons, and their daily life. Today I speak my language. I know our ceremonial songs. I’m one of the head men in our community.”

And Valliere’s educational and cultural journey is far from over. 

“At 47, I’m still learning – all the time, new stuff. I don’t know it all, and I don’t claim to know it all. I know a little bit, and if you know a little bit, there’s room to learn a lot,” Valliere said. 

He built his first birch bark canoe at the age of 16. More than 30 years later, Valliere was commissioned to build another to be part of the Tribal Canoe Journey on the Salish Sea – the first time that the Anishinaabe of the Midwest took part in this ceremonial journey. The Salish Sea is located on the western coast of Washington State near Seattle and Puget Sound.

“It was the first time an Anishinaabe birch bark canoe hit the salt water in those people don’t know how long. Maybe in the Paleo period, that’s how long it’s been,” Valliere said. “We had killer whales coming up in front of us and huge, huge sea lions. It was a very spiritual happening the whole time.”


Building a wiigwaasi-jiimaan

“[The Tribal Canoe Journey] is about keeping our culture alive and it’s about canoe culture and how most natives have it,” Valliere said. “The birch bark canoe is very historic to our people. It was our main method of travel. From Flambeau Lake, you can get all the way to the Gulf of Mexico by water.”

Commissioned in 2011 by Tina Kuckkahn – director of the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center at the Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash., and Lac du Flambeau tribal member – Valliere embarked on the year-long process of building a birch bark canoe. 

“It took a year to construct this canoe because our materials are gotten at different times of the year and you have to process all these materials, and then there’s the actual construction.”

As a way to teach his children the tradition of building a wiigwaasi-jiimaan (birch bark canoe), Valliere had them help throughout the process. 

“And I took my 10-year-old son out [to Washington] to pass knowledge down to the next generation,” Valliere said. 

Tim Frandy of the UW-Madison folklore program documented the canoe-building procedure through photography, but ended up getting much more involved. 

“Tim turned out to be kind of an apprentice, not just a photographer. We bonded a really good friendship, and that’s what canoe journeys and canoe building and things like that do because you’re out in nature and you experience so many positive things.”

“I feel like Wayne really gifted me a lot of traditional knowledge. After having gone through the process, you can see things differently. You see canoes differently. You see the woods differently from the harvesting techniques Wayne taught me,” Frandy said.

While searching for cedar to be used in the canoe, Valliere and Frandy had “a spiritual happening” that pointed them in the right direction.

“We didn’t know quite where to find this cedar, but we were shown a direction. All of a sudden, four otters ran across the path in front of us, so we knew it was the right place. That was the best canoe builder sign you can possible get. Otters, just like the canoes that are portaged, travel on the land and also use the water to travel.”

Between Frandy’s photographs and Valliere’s experience on the canoe journey, they put together a PowerPoint presentation to pass knowledge down to future generations.

After finishing the first phase of building the canoe in Lac du Flambeau, Valliere and Frandy shipped it out to Washington where it would be completed with the help of other tribes. Both in Lac du Flambeau and Washington, Valliere was working against a deadline.

“The spirits willing, we were on time. And then we went on our journey and it was a very positive experience. We represented the Anishinaabe out there and shared our culture with them, and they loved our culture and invited us out next year.”


The Tribal Canoe Journey

“The canoe journey is for Native people from around the world. There are no borders when it comes to Native people, aboriginal people of the land. We’re all one, and we came together collectively and that’s what the canoe journey is about. We share our culture amongst one another,” Valliere said.

With about 100 canoes and thousands of people taking part in the journey, Anishinaabe from Ontario, Wisconsin, Michigan and Washington state shared their stories, songs, dances, art forms and canoe forms with other tribes. 

“Our canoe family was Anishinaabe, then we were with the Maoris tribe from New Zealand, and also the Skokomish tribe,” Valliere said. “We all came together as a family and they were in our camp to help finish this canoe, and we traveled together on this journey, picking up different tribes along the way.”

Traveling through waterways 20-feet wide to arrive at the Salish Sea, every time the canoe family joined with another tribe, there was a ritual. First, permission to come ashore had to be granted, then a celebration would ensue for a few days at that site. 

“We would share our culture and our gifts with them, and then they would join the journey and we’d move down the coast to pick up the next tribe.”

After reaching the Salish Sea, there was a week-long celebration with all the tribes and gifts was presented to the host tribe, including the Lac du Flambeau birch bark canoe.

“In the end, the Maori people, the Anishinaabe people and the Skokomish people made beautiful gifts for the host tribe, and they filled that canoe up with beautiful, beautiful works of art. That was their gift on behalf of the Anishinaabe nation, the Skokomish and the Maori people of New Zealand. It was a very positive thing.”

After spending 10 days with tribes from around the country and the world, Valliere made life-long friends. 

“The remarkable thing about all the different tribes I came across while I was on this journey was all the similarities of the tribes and the testimonial that we were one tribe at one time on this great island, and how through environment and distance, different languages were created, different cultures were made do survive as we spread out on this turtle island. That’s really cool when you meet somebody and they’re like a brother to you.”


2013 Tribal Canoe Journey

Next year’s canoe journey will entail a larger project for Valliere, which he won’t be doing single-handedly – a 30-foot voyageur canoe, a model that was used in the past during the fur trade to haul cargo around the Great Lakes.

“That will definitely be seaworthy when we get out there, and it will probably take about 14 to 16 men to paddle it,” Valliere said. “I’ll be getting some other builders involved in this process. We’re going to partner with the Evergreen State College and with our Lac du Flambeau public school and teach this craft back to our children and bring it back alive so that we never lose it again.”

This time it won’t just be Valliere and his son taking part in the journey.

“I’ll be selecting people to become part of our canoe family, and I want to get young people involved because that’s the future of our culture – teach them our language, our culture, our history, our identity. That’s our mission, to plant the seed of identity in our children.”

Following the motto, “Tell me, and I might remember. Tell and show me, and I might hold on to it for a while. But show me and make me do it, and I’ll remember it and I’ll hold it,” Valliere’s  goal in life is to pass down Ojibwe knowledge to others, keeping their traditions alive for years and years to come. 

“The knowledge I have, I thank my elders. The things that I know, I owe everything to them and in turn they owe their elders. That’s how it’s passed on from generation to generation. A lot of these things we can’t teach out of a book.”

One such cultural aspect that can’t be taught from a book is the building of a birch bark canoe.

“You have to get your hands dirty; you have to get a few wood splinters; you have to smell the sweet smell of bark coming off the tree; you have to hear the cracking of the cedar when it’s being split in the right way and the smack it makes when it finally separates. To write about that would be impossible.”

Sarah Hirsch may be reached at shirsch@lakelandtimes.com

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, September 7, 2012
Article comment by: karen croak

Ms Johnson,
It seems as if I hit you where it hurts. Just to clue you in a bit, I don't need a buggy . . I get over 50 mpg with my Prius, do dry my clothes outside whenever able, do grow some of our food but not nearly the gallons of vegetables every year as when our family was young, and do make my own candles. I don't see what that has to do with anything.
I was simply stating a fact as I saw it no more and no less

Posted: Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Article comment by: Sarah Johnson

Really? Thats all you see in this article is your own ignorant agenda? Sounds like someone has control issues. Croak, it seems as though you should go back to hand writing and mailing your comments so you have time to give them a little more thought and consideration. Reading the article in its entirety might also help. Of course if you want to talk about the resource, you could also go back to riding in a buggie, air drying your clothes, growing your own food, using candle light, etc. Before you start pointing the finger, try getting the facts straight and making sure your own shoes are shiny!

Posted: Friday, August 31, 2012
Article comment by: karen croak

And this is exactly how spearing should be done . . from the canoes that the natives were using at the time of the treaties.

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