Native American Unit Week 1- The Birchbark House: Neebin (Summer)


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:

Ribbet collagewigwamthomas

I am hoping Gary will help the children build a frame on Saturday and then we will begin adding our ‘Birch Bark’.

Stone Dolls

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:

Ribbet collagerockdolls

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:

DSC_0180venison meal

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!

Bear Claw

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:


Ribbet collagebearclaw

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:



Ribbet collagedriftwooddolls



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:

Ribbet collagecorncob

Story Telling

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

Next week I will be posting about our introduction to the Ojibwe people.

Linking up appreciatively here


  1. I love the names you’ve chosen for each of them – did you choose a name for yourself too? I can recognise the children in each description purely from reading your posts which is a testament to your writing skill 🙂

  2. Oh this was a fun unit study! I was searching for a Native American curriculum for my kids and ended up creating one from scratch. You’ve given me some ideas for making it fun. I’m visiting from the weekly wrapup.

  3. Great activities! I have to admit that my two favorites were choosing the names and making the bear claws for the necklaces. That chapter in the first section of the book where Omakayas is interacting with the bears is just such a fantastic image to carry from the book that a bear claw makes a great image for several things that happen throughout the series. 🙂

    1. Oooh, I’m looking forward to the rest of the books….
      I think these books are possibly better written than the prairie ones. At least I am enjoying them more. Even the littles stop to listen once in a while!

  4. You got me doing research this morning 🙂 First, I had to finally figure out what tribe this is. I’ve never heard of the Obijwe…until I realized they were the Chippewa (I guess in the States that they are usually called Chippewa, and in Canada Obijwe) – Then I had to check a historical range map to see how far east grizzly bears used to roam. I thought by the time Lewis and Clark came across Montana, that grizzlies unknown to them…but according to the maps at they did used to roam a little further east…anyway, thanks for kicking off a fascinating flurry of finds!

  5. I’ve loved reading about your study this week. I am totally in awe of how you manage to get so much done and still manage to find time to blog about it! Are you sure you’re still sleeping?! Seriously though, you all seem completely in your element. It’s lovely to see how things are working so well chez the Angelicscalliwags.

  6. Wow, what a great unit study! We read The Birchbark House two years ago My girls loved it! It was fun to go up to Lake Superior and talk about the things their family actually saw and experienced up there!

  7. You all are doing a great job with this study. So many fun activities. I can’t choose a favorite this week because they all look like fun, but I can choose my least favorite – venison. Oh, how my mother tried to trick me into eating it, sneaking it in with other foods, but I always could tell it was venison.
    I hope you had a lovely weekend, Claire. Praying you have a wonderful week ahead.

  8. What awesome ways to learn about Ojibwe! Trying things yourself is the best way to remember the information you’re trying to learn. I still remember classes like this from high school and even university, even when the rest has been forgotten. Thank you for linking up to the Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop last month, I’ll be featuring you this month at Crystal’s Tiny Treasures.

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