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?
The Galileo Educational Network desscribes inquiry as “a dynamic process of being open to wonder and puzzlement and coming to know and understand the world. As such, it is a stance that pervades all aspects of life and is essential to the way in which knowledge is created. Inquiry is based on the belief that understanding is constructed in the process of people working and conversing together as they pose and solve the problems, make discoveries and rigorously testing the discoveries that arise in the course of shared activity.” (Link to galileo) Inquiry invites children to explore questions of interest to them related to a given topic. Through inquiry, students can cover a large numebr of curriculum outcomes through authentically exploring a topic of relevance to them.
Click here for a rubric from the Galileo Educational Network that can help you to guide your inquiry project with your students.
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