Mawkinumasultinej! Let’s Learn Together! Quill Work

Inquiry Into Quill Work

IMGP3210The late Dianne Toney was a Mi’kmaw elder who made quill boxes.  During a conversation with her about mathematics in the Mi’kmaw community, she explained that she made quill boxes by beginning with a circle top and starting her pattern in the centre.  She then explained that she  made the ring for the top from strips of wood.  To ensure the ring was the right size, Dianne said she would measure three times across the circular top and add a thumb.  She claimed this would make a perfect ring every time.  The following inquiry units focus on the mathematics of quill boxes. 

What is Inquiry?

quillchairThe 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 Quill Work?

oldquillbasketsIn addition to Dianne’s story of three and a thumb, quill work also provides students with an opportunity to explore the role of measurement, geometry, and patterns. The art of finding the bark, forming the box, collecting the quills, creating the designs, and completing the artwork with the quills is quickly being lost to history. Embedded within this art form, however, is not only a rich culture but also a rich understanding of mathematics from an Aboriginal cultural perspective. By allowing students to partake in creating Quill Boxes and Quill designs, and allowing them to interact with mathematics in a culturally relevant manner, students may be better able to understand and apply mathematics in their own life.

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 Langauge, and other content area outcomes. These guides also contain examples of essential questions that can be used to start an inquiry project on quill work. There are also suggestions about how the quill work inquiry fits within various units within the curricula.

  • Quill Boxes: Grade 7(coming soon)
  • Quill work grade 3 (coming soon)
  • Quill work Grade 4 (coming soon)

Resources and Links for Quill Work

Books relating to Quill Boxes, Quill work, designs and Dyes:

  • Whitehead, Ruth Holmes. Mi’kmaq Quillwork: Micmac Indian Techniques of Porcupine Quill Decoration: 1600-1950. Halifax, Nova Scotia: The Nova Scotia Museum, 1982. Print.
  • Mi’kmaq Hieroglyphic Prayers: Readings in North America’s First Indigenous Script. Ed: David L. Schmidt and Murdena Marshall. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Nimbus Publishing, 1995. Print.
  • Wallis, Wilson D., and Ruth Sawtell Wallis. “Basketry.” The Micmac Indians of Eastern Canada. Minnesota, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 71-75. Print.
  • Wallis, Wilson D., and Ruth Sawtell Wallis. “Dyes.” The Micmac Indians of Eastern Canada. Minnesota, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 87-89. Print.
  • Wallis, Wilson D., and Ruth Sawtell Wallis. “Moose-Hair and Quill Work.” The Micmac Indians of Eastern Canada. Minnesota, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 89-92. Print.

Perspective piece on using quills today:

Images of Quill Boxes:

Information about Quill Boxes / Quill work

Relating to how to make Quill Boxes

Present day making of Quill Boxes: