Niibin (summer) is here! With the warm weather and beautiful days, Oshkinigig is ready to get into the water. Oshkinigig is a wiigwaas jiimaan, a birch bark canoe.

The Georgian Bay Anishinaabek Youth (GBAY) is a youth-led group who workes to create safe spaces for Indigenous youth to build community and cultural connections. GBAY is supported by the Georgian Bay Mnidoo Gamii Biosphere and supports youth all along the coast of Georgian Bay. GBB and GBAY are situated on Robinson-Huron Treaty territory.

In October of 2019, GBAY held a wiigwaas jiimaanke (birch bark canoe build). It took 19 long days to build the jiimaan. The jiimaanke (canoe build) represents strength and connection. There was a ceremony after completing the canoe build and she was named Oshkinigig. Oshkinigig is made of all-natural materials harvested from areas throughout the Great Lakes. The hull is wiigwaas (white birch bark), the ribs are giizhik(cedar), the thwarts are aagimaak (white ash), the lashings and pitch are from the gaawaandaagwaatig (white spruce tree).

Her name, Oshkinigig, loosely means “New Ones”. Oshki means new or shiny and nigig means otter. In Anishinaabe thought and understanding, the otter is very youthful and playful. She was named Oshkinigig because of the work she does and will do with and for the youth. You may notice that we refer to Oshkinigig as a she, but her pronouns can change.

A wiigwaas jiimaan is important to Anishinaabe way of life because it was the main method of travel. To have a jiimaan meant you could survive, hunt, travel, and provide for your family. The resistance and resurgence of a jiimaanke (canoe build) are also very important to Anishinaabek life.

Through harvesting the materials, you learn sustainability, respect, and skills. Anishinaabek ethics are rooted in honourable harvesting. This means that Anishinaabe ask and put semma (tobacco) down before taking anything from the land and water. During the building process, you learn woodworking and spruce root stitching, as well as learning to make bear grease which is a multi-function medicine. The skills and tools you learn and make during a jiimaanke can transfer to snowshoe making, tiknaagan (cradle) making, quill box crafting, and many other practices.

A jiimaanke is one of the most complex forms of Anishinaabe science. Due to events in our histories (such as residential schools) some of the knowledge and practice of the jiimaanke have been lost. The building of Oshkinigig was an act of growth and support for Anishinaabek. Building a birch bark canoe is often identified as equal to graduating high school or university, with respect to the depth of knowledge and skills gained.

Oshkinigig is cared for and supported by the Georgian Bay Anishinaabek Youth, Georgian Bay Biosphere, and Killbear Provincial Park. Currently, she is housed in the Visitor Centre in Killbear. Through a very special and appreciated partnership, she is a live exhibit. This means we can visit and take Oshkinigig out whenever she needs. Throughout this summer, Oshkinigig can be found being paddled around Georgian Bay. Oshkinigig was created to be paddled!

Weweni, Mno Niibin!

Take care, have a good summer!

Core Jiimaanke Team Photo Credits: Delaina Rice
Core Jiimaanke Team Photo Credits: Delaina Rice
Niigaunii and Dawson pouring hot cedar water over the hull of the jiimaan to prepare for etching of the winter bark.
Niigaunii and Dawson pouring hot cedar water over the hull of the jiimaan to prepare for etching of the winter bark.
GBAY youth putting Oshkinigig into the water for the first time Photo Credits: Delaina Rice
GBAY youth putting Oshkinigig into the water for the first time. Photo Credits: Delaina Rice.

Translations (alphabetically): 

  • Aadziwin – way of being/life 
  • Aagimaak – white ash 
  • Anishinaabe – the original man, singular Ojibwe person 
  • Anishinaabek – the original people, plural Ojibwe people
  • Gaawaandaagwaatig – white spruce tree 
  • Giizhik – cedar 
  • Ininemowin – thought/philosophy 
  • Jiimaan – canoe 
  • Jiimaanke – canoe build 
  • Mnidoo Gamii – Georgian Bay 
  • Oshkinigig – New Ones 
  • Shkode – fire 
  • Tiknaagan – Cradle
  • Wiigwaas – white birch bark 
Shawanaga Wiigwaas Jiimaan wiiji Oshkinigig