NMU students Samantha Hasek and Leora Tadgerson interview Jim St. Arnold (Keweenaw Bay Indian Community).


Video Interviews

This Great Lakes Anishinaabe Ethnobotany site is a collection of personal stories and cultural teachings related to various plants and trees of the upper Great Lakes region including: black ash, blueberry, cedar, cranberries, sugar maple, sweet grass, white paper birch, and wild rice.

For the last two years, as part of the Zaagkii Project, students at the Center for Native American Studies have interviewed many Native elders about ethnobotany. The goal was to seek out information about specific plants that are common and most useful in the Upper Peninsula region.

Thanks to videographer and editor Greg Peterson of the Cedar Tree Institute for his work on these short videos.

Manoomin – Wild Rice


Paper Birch Trees


Black Ash with Kelly Church


More videos are coming soon! Keep checking back for white cedar, blueberry plants, and more. Some excerpts from knowledge holders featured in the new videos:

Kelly Church (Grand Traverse Band of Ottowa Chipewa, Basketry Expert) on black ash, fall 2009:

“I would say on a scale of one to ten, eleven – that’s how important I think it is [to pass on knowledge of black ash basketry]. I say that because black ash has been a part of our peoples – the Anishinaabe – for thousands of years . . . It’s part of who we are . . . We use baskets for fishing creels, for baby cradles, for market baskets, for gathering.  We use baskets for everything.”


Nick Hockings (Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe) on the use of white cedar, fall 2009:

Nick Hockings

“The ribs [of a birch bark canoe] are made out of cedar. The gunnels are made out of cedar, the ribs are made out of cedar, and the sheathing on the bottom is made out of cedar. Cedar has a unique property in the sense that it is very long-grained. So when you if you’re going to get cedar wood, you look at the bark of the tree, and if that bark goes up and starts to twist a little bit, the grain of the wood is going to twist. If you find the bark of the tree that goes nice right straight up, those are the ones that you want.”


Giiwe Martin (Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa) on the gathering of white birch, spring 2010:

“You take a scoring knife—well first of all you put your tobacco down—and you make a score not too deep so you’re not going to damage the tree, and then you have to do it at the right time of the year. It depends on how you’re going to use the birch bark, what type of [birch] tree you’re going to use. You can gather the birch different times of the year based on what it is that you’re going to be using the birch for. And then once you make your score, your cut down the tree, if the birch is peeling like it should, it’ll just pop right off the tree for you.”


Jim St. Arnold on the artistic tradition of birch bark biting, fall 2009:

“A long time ago, before our women would put a pattern on something . . . they would take a piece of birch bark and peel and peel it. If you’ve ever seen birch bark, you know it has a lot of layers. They’d peel it and get it to about the thickness of a piece of tissue paper. Then they would take it and fold it, fold it, fold it . . . like snowflakes made with scissors . . . but instead of using scissors, they would use their eye teeth to bite a pattern into it. Then you slowly open it up – you have to be really careful because it’s real thin – slowly open it up, and you see a pattern on there.”