Museum tour

Our second day in Minnesota was great. After spending time with the students at the Fond du Lac school, we made our way over to the local museum to soak in a little history of the Ojibwe. Out side of the displays you could find crafts like these that some of the local artisans had made. The amount of detail and precision exhibited by the works was impressive.

Here is a tiny canoe. The same wood (Birch) and design was used to construct this miniature water craft as one would use to make its larger full scale brothers.

The Ojibwe worked hard at any thing they did, as can be seen in this picture. Depicted here is a ranger uniform, an elite branch of the army. Special physical, mental, and psychological traits are needed to be eligible for, let alone pass, ranger school. I think Johnny’s medals and ribbons say the rest. Of note is the required jump medal shown with the wings and parachute in the middle and the purple heart symbolizing wounds during service.

Like other American Indian populations, there exists a proud tradition of service men and women. Dating back to WWII many of the Ojibwe served the American government in overseas wars. A story that comes to mind from the museum tells of a proud soldier that was in the Pacific Theatre. In addition to his wounds he became ill with malaria and contracted “Jungle Rot,” painful ulcers that are infected with microorganisms, contracted after spending months and months in extremely wet unsanitary  conditions in the jungles. It was not uncommon for people to have lost appendages due to the mass erosion of tissue. This would have most commonly occurred during the monsoon seasons that many military personell suffered heavy morbidities and psychological trauma from. Many Ojibwe served in later conflicts such as the Korean and Vietnam wars. Today the tradition is still alive and thriving as military life provides a structure and family that many of the peoples of the reservations have had to grow up with out. A considerable number of the elders I encountered are vets and love talking about it…all you have to do is ask. They are proud of their contribution to America, despite all the despicable atrocities they have endured by the hands of that same government.

Birch trees can be seen all over northern Minnesota. The Ojibwe people have used it for centuries. It is still extensively used in construction, especially in fine carpentry work and is a main wood used in modern skate boards. It is one of the sturdiest woods and yet a pliable wood making it good for shaping.  The beautiful white and spotted bark is not only tough but can be stretched and is naturally water tight. There were countless water tight pieces that the Ojibwe would have used birch to make: ranging from water jugs and rice containers to canoes like the one pictured above. In addition rope and a myriad of other uses can be done with the natural and abundant birch trees. These people took every advantage possible of their resources as can be modeled by the birch tree. Paintings depicting the native peoples often have backgrounds filled with this almost mystic tree. Staring in to a forest dense with the white bark of the birch tree is mesmerizing and feels ghostly.


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