Native American Unit Week 3- The Birchbark House: Biboon (Winter)

DSC_0081pinnable2The Birchbark House is book one of a four series set of books about a young, Ojibwe girl called Omakayas:

DSC_0081louiseThis 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 third section of the book (winter).

Seeing Deer Close Up

It is during the winter months that food is scarce and Omakayas’ family are very hungry.  That is, until she finds a huge deer.  Gary works on a large national park which has a huge population of all sorts of deer.  He took us there on Sunday to see them close up:

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This is a picture of a huge older solitary deer.  We couldn’t get any closer but his huge antlers reminded me of the deer described in the Birch Bark house:


Making a Beading Kit

Omakayas had never learnt to bead.  Ten Snow, a young lady who thought of Omakayas as the sister she never had, was an excellent beader.  She kindly made Omakayas her own little kit to get her started.  I had sourced this beading kit from Amazon which I gave my girls to begin their own beading:


Making a Round Birchbark Box

Nokomis made a Birchbark box to hold  her red willow kinnikinnick (a smoking product).  We decided to make a box to store the Sage tobacco we made last week.  Nokomis decorated hers with birch bark stars so we did the same:

Ribbet collagewintery2

I enlarged a photograph of birch bark, saving onto word and printing it out on card stock.  I had saved a Pringle’s crisp tub to use as it was small and round.  C12 covered the tub with the bark paper and cut out some stars to decorate it with just as Nokomis had in the book


Crushing the Sage Tobacco

After the Sage was fully dried (which took much longer than expected) C crushed it into crumbs.  This was placed into our birch bark box until required for blessing the spirits.  Given T12 had dried a large handful we were surprised by how small an amount was left after crushing:

Ribbet collagewinter1

Adding to the Ojibwe Clothing

Omakayas’ Mother decorated Angeline’s dress and made her a jingling shawl for the dance they would all attend.  We made a shawl with a jingle jangle red ribbon running through it.  I bought some tiny bells which L12 sewed on, one at a time:

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She then added a red ribbon just like Angeline’s mother had in the book:

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Meanwhile Nokomis finished a feather fan for Angeline to take to the dance.  T12 made one using decorated lolly sticks and brightly coloured feathers.  T is not keen on doing any kind of artistry if it requires him to be precise, so he chose to decorate the handle of the fan using brightly coloured loom bands.  We were all very pleased by the final fan:



Thus our girl dolly was all ready to be taken to the dance:



Story Telling with Nokomis

Nokomis tells everyone a story from her youth.  Story telling over winter was a very common past time especially during the later hours of the day.  It seems to be Nokomis’ role in this book to do most of the story telling and sure enough later on in the winter chapters she, again, tells of a story of long ago – the Ojibwe story of how the Earth was created.

We had read about the Ojibwe creation story from this book also:


And I knew the children knew this story fairly well so I asked the older three children to retell it however they wanted.  T wrote his narration simply on his computer whilst L photocopied one of the lovely pictures from the above book and wrote her narration carefully on top of the sky and sea leaving the animals to be coloured in at a later date.  In contrast C drew a cartoon of the story:

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I had also bought the following book which I began reading aloud to the children at lunch time:


Also, we have studied the folk art of birch bark biting and did some bark biting ourselves using tortillas in leau of the bark:


The children looked into the dodems which make up the first 7 Ojibwe clans, making up animal stories reflecting the characteristics each clan represents and a poster to demonstrate their learning:

They made it into a poster which they would present to my mum at the end of the week

In addition we did a picture study on a contemporary Ojibwe painting called ‘The Gathering of the Clans’:


And added to our Native American dress up by making some leather ‘beaded’ bracelets:

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The children have also been reading the following two books:


Paddle to the Sea is a well known book.   A young Indian boy carves a little canoe with a toy Indian inside and names him Paddle-to-the-Sea. Paddle’s journey through Ojibwe land on the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean is described in text and pictures, providing an interesting look into the geography and history of the region:


The children LOVED this book and all of them finished it in one setting.  It was a lovely geographical addition to our Ojibwe studies.

Leelanau of the Ojibwa is a story set in the Great Lakes region of Saginaw. The main character is an old woman named Leelanau, who is part of an Indian tribe that traveled throughout the Michigan area. She is telling her life story to a man named Paul Davis, who has come to the reservation to document the culture of the Indian tribe. She starts telling him what her life was when she was a child and explains how life was before the white man came and the changes that led her and her people to the reservation. She describes wars that her tribes were involved in and the loss of most of her family. At the end of the story, Leelanau and what is left of her family disappear. Paul never realizes that he has been talking to the spirits of people who once lived and have now passed on to the spirit world…(From Amazon website)

Again this story was enjoyed by the children, although it took them a little longer to read it than Paddle to the Sea.  L12 was particularly moved by it.

And finally I posted a recipe for Ojibwe Fried bread:

Ribbet collageAutumn4

We have one more season to cover from the Birch Bark book and only three more weeks until we finish our Ojibwe study altogether.

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  1. Claire, this is a lovely post. First, your solitary older deer made me think of Big Eric. Do you remember him from Monarch of the Glen? The children did a fantastic job of making your dolly into a beautiful Ojibwe girl. All of your books look so interesting. Paddle to the Sea has been on my list for a long time, along with the others by Holling. I love L’s idea of writing her narration over the picture. Did she come up with that by herself? I have written down the recipe for the bread and it is on our to-do-soon list. My children have enjoyed reading these posts on the Ojibwe. Faith seems to have a particular interest in Native Americans.

    Thank you for sharing. I hope you have a most excellent weekend. Hugs to you, my friend.

    1. Yes, Big Eric!!
      L did come up with that herself. I thought it was quite unusual! Enjoy your (calorie free) bread!
      Hope you had a lovely weekend.xx

  2. I may have to add these books to our reading lists!!! We read Paddle To The Sea a few months ago with our geography study and loved it. So far it is our favorite Holling book.

  3. Okay, I really want you to organize all of your posts for this topic (or any of the awesome topics you cover) into a big “round up” post so I can be lazy and always find all of them together.
    In all of your limitless time that you have can you do that?

  4. I have been truly enjoying this series, it’s one of my favorites, and I’ll be sad to see it end! The multitude of hands on activities are just fantastic. How are the girls enjoying their beading kits? It looks like it makes for tricky work.

    1. I’m enjoying it too, I think because it is a world apart from the life we live now. Everything is such a new way of thinking that it is affecting us all quite deeply.

  5. This is so great! Wow, I love what you did with this unit study. My girls LOVED The Birchbark House. I’m going to “Pin” this so I can refer back to it when we study Native Americans again 🙂

  6. What a great study! We have a curriculum on our list for American Indian culture. Hopefully we will make it to a real pow-wow this coming summer. Thanks for sharing.

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