The Birchbark House is book one of a four series set of books about a young, Ojibwe girl called Omakayas:
This first book is separated into four sections – the four seasons of the year. Each chapter we read we find much to talk about and learn about. In addition there are many parts of the story we are able to attempt to replicate. This post will cover all the activities we did from the very first section of the book: Neebin (Summer).
Choosing Ojibwe Names
The book begins by introducing Omakayas, explaining that Omakayas is Ojibwe for Little Frog. She was called Little Frog because her first step was a hop. I thought it might be fun to find an Ojibwe name for the children based on some trait they display. In the Ojibwe culture, according to Erdrich in The Birchbark house, only a few people had the right to give names and only then when the names had come to them in a vision or dream.
We used this website which not only gave some Ojibwe name suggestions but also explained what the word meant in English and also what characteristics a person with that particular name might display.
T12: Bagwunagijik – Hole in the Sky
L11: Abequa – Stays at Home
C11: Ominotago – Beautiful Voice
A6: Namid – Star Dancer
B3: Keezheekoni – Burning Fire
I have copied and pasted the meanings of the names we chose and the characteristics the person so named displays and popped them in a pdf file should you wish to have a peak: Ojibwe names chosen
Meeting Our Ojibwe Family
The Birchbark House is set around the goings on of one Ojibwe family. We had planned that the main hands on part of our study would revolve around an Ojibwe doll family. Omakayas’ family consisted of Nokomis (her grandmother); her mother and father; as well as an older sister called Angeline, a younger brother called Pinch and a baby brother who as yet had not been given his Ojibwe name. Our family would be considerably smaller with just a mother, a father and a baby:
The very observant among you might notice that I have two female dolls. They were the only ones available. The only male doll in the shop had very blond hair and so did not look terribly Native American. We are hoping with some masculine clothing, head-gear and hairstyles she may look a little more like a he.
Over the next few weeks we will be slowly transforming these three dolls to an Ojibwe family complete with clothes and their very own wigwam.
Making a Wigwam (or Birchbark house)
One of the first activities Omakayas and her family had to do was to make their summer home, a wigwam made from Birch bark. Our plan was to make a small version of a wigwam, large enough to house our Non-American American dolls, using flexible new growth branches from our Laurel tree and huge sheets of butcher’s paper. This is a project we will be doing over the next couple of weeks but T12 made a good start by stripping some Laurel branches of their leaves:
I am hoping Gary will help the children build a frame on Saturday and then we will begin adding our ‘Birch Bark’.
The first chapter mentions stone dolls and contains a picture of what they look like. We used the only vaguely flat stones available to us (white ones collected on one of our beach visits). The children were happy to build their dolls, but for them there was no play value attached to them because they kept toppling over:
Moose Stew with Maize and Manomin
Otherwise known as Venison, sweet corn and mushroom stew served with wild rice. Moose stew and wild rice were mentioned a few times. I was a bit puzzled as to what I might make. As far as I knew Moose meat wasn’t widely available in the UK. I did Google it on the off-chance I was wrong and many suppliers of venison came up. Moose = type of deer / Venison = deer meat sold in UK. Bingo! Waitrose was selling venison fairly reasonably so I bought some to go with the wild rice we already had at home (we eat that every week). I added mushroom (the book mentioned they grew wild) and sweet corn (I already knew maize was a major crop). I kind of chucked it all in and hoped for the best, and here is the result:
It was a huge hit with all but my youngest daughter. Gary even took some for lunch the next day and thought it was lovely!
When Omakayas comes face to face with a mother grisly bear, one of her first thoughts was centred around the bear claw she had hanging around her neck. She was concerned it might anger the bear even more. As one of my goals is to make our Native American dress more Ojibwean we decided to make our own bear claws to hang on a home-made Ojibwe necklace.
We used clay to form a large claw shape and drilled a hole through the fattest part using a sharp pencil. These were put to one side for use when we came to make our necklaces:
A6 decided one bear claw wasn’t enough for her and chose to make a bear paw full of claws!
Willow Bark Dolls/Drift Wood Dolls
Omakayas and her brother and sister made dolls from whatever materials were available to them. I sent the children outside to find something available in our natural environment with which to make a doll from. This was much more successful than the stone dolls they had made, with all three younger ones playing with them:
Towards the end of Summer, Omakayas’ father Deydey returns from selling his furs. One of the first thing he notices is his crop of corn or maize being eaten by the crows. He instructs his two daughters to bang sticks to wave them away. In the end the girls set a trap and catch a huge feast of crows which they then pluck and serve for dinner.
Funnily enough I had few (read no) volunteers for crow killing so we settled on cooking up some corn for dinner, which was what Omakayas’ mother served up to go with the crow, saving the husks for doll making later on:
As Erdrich brings summer to an end, Deydey is telling a story from his memories of the past. This type of story telling is incredibly important to the Ojibwe people to keep their culture and traditions alive for generations to come. We would be studying the Oral Traditions of the Ojibwe people in the coming week, but as a taster I asked the children to write about one of the memories of their childhood, as if they were relaying it to their grandchildren. Feel free to have a peek at two of them, one outlining our tradition of travelling to Ireland annually and the other telling of a yearly birthday tradition: Traditions of Old
The whole Native American culture has gripped my children, and the twins have been busy writing stories in the small amount of spare time they have. Once they finish them I’ll post them.
Posts relating to the Native American study we have done this week
- How to make a simple Native American dress up costume
- Mapping the area of the Native American migration and settlement
- Looking at some differences between the different American tribes
- A small presentation about the Native Americans
Next week I will be posting about our introduction to the Ojibwe people.
Linking up appreciatively here