Inquiring Into Birch Bark Biting
On this page you will find resources and curriculum connections to help you lead students through an inquiry unit on birch bark biting and the tradition of birch bark biting in the lives of Mi’kmaw people. This project was inspired by a conversation with Josephine Peck, an elder in Wagmatcook First Nation. Josephine shared a story about how her mother used to give her and her siblings thin strips of bark and ask them to fold them and bite shapes into them.
Upon firther investigation, we learned that both the late Margaret Johnson (Dr. Granny) of Eskasoni First Nation and her sister, the late Caroline Gould of We’koqma’q First Nation, were known to be Birch Bark Biters. Learn more about them here. We dedicate this work to the memory of these two amazing Mi’kmaw elders.
What is Inquiry?
Inquiry is the result of human beings’ wonderings and curiosities about the natural or constructed world (Barell, 2008; Krauss, 2013). Our natural inquisitiveness is the driving force to ask questions and formulate means of authentic learning, and it is this inquisitiveness and passion that moves us forward (Krauss, 2013; The National Science Foundation, ND; Pahomov, 2014) and pushes our ability to think in critical, creative and divergent ways (Bateman, 1990; Krauss, 2013). IBL is a student-centred learning process that emphasizes the importance of motivating students to engage in and learn through the process of purposeful experiential investigations and research in order to better understand the world (Abuhimed, Beheshti, Cole, AlGhamdi & Lamoureux, 2013; Galileo Educational Network, 1999-2014; Kanter & Konstantopoulos, 2010; Prince, 2004; Rusche & Jason, 2011). Inquiry invites children to explore questions of interest to them related to a given topic. Through inquiry, students can cover a large number of curriculum outcomes through authentically exploring a topic of relevance to them.
Why Inquire into Birch Bark Biting?
With Birch Bark biting being a nearly lost art form, along with the Aboriginal cultural connections, learning about how to create Birch Bark bitings and the mathematical, scientific, social and artistic aspects behind these artworks may be very interesting and relevant to the students in your classroom. By having students participate in this tradition of birch bark biting, students will have the opportunity to engage with mathematics from a non-Western-European viewpoint. Students will be able to learn about shapes and the properties of shapes through discovering how to bite shapes into the bark, requiring them to not only create the shape but also imagine the shape and its features while biting the bark.
How do I Connect this to Curriculum?
Teachers are encouraged to use the Inquiry Project Details below for the appropriate grade. These projects include links to provincial Mathematics (WNCP), Science, Social, English Language Arts, Mi’kmaq Language, and other content area outcomes. These guides also contain examples of essential questions that can be used to start an inquiry project on bead work. There are also suggestions about how the bead work inquiry fits within various units within the curricula.
Links to Birch Bark Biting Information
- Birch Bark biting examples
- Videos of Birch Bark biting / Interviews about Birch Bark biting
- Mi’kmaq Culture and History links:
- Four Directions Teachings: http://www.fourdirectionsteachings.com/main.html
- Museums (Canadian Museum of Civilization)
- Information on dyes and how dyes were made:
- Wallis, Wilson D., and Ruth Sawtell Wallis. “Shelter, Food, Clothing, Crafts.” The Micmac Indians of Eastern Canada. Minnesota, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1955. 57-97. Print.
- Informational on Birch Bark Biting:
- “Wigwas: Bark Biting.” Our Legacy: ka-ka-pe-isi-nakatamakawiyahk T’a bet’ a dene dahidli. Thunder Bay National Exhibition Centre, 1983. 1-21. http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/solr?query=ID:25614&start=0&rows=10&mode=results