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Anishinaabe Babamadizwin: A Journey By Canoe

ACF13805 Mike Ormsby Ontario, CANADA

Created September 26, 2012 by Mike Ormsby


Ontario, CANADA

Funding Level

$100k - 150k (< 2014)

Community Size

More than 1,000


(NOTE: This idea originally was posted on my blog Reflections On The Outdoors Naturally, including the original concept of a Four Directions Canoe Project and later the revised Anishinaabe Babamadizwin: Journey By Canoe. Please check out for more details....including links to similar canoe projects with Native youth.)

The Ojibway or Anishinaabe people were canoe people. Taking a canoe trip certainly gets one back to basics....and in the case of Anishinaabe even  back to one's traditions. This is very true with the young people.

One such example, undertaken over the last few years, is an outdoor adventure leadership experience (OALE) for youth (ages 12 to 18) from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, involving ten-day canoe trips. The main goal of the OALE program is to promote resilience and well-being.

Aboriginal youth face a number of considerable social, economic, and educational challenges. According to statistics outlined by the United Nation’s Human Development Index, the living conditions and quality of life Canadian First Nations is similar to that of many developing countries. A lack of education means that approximately 70% of First Nations' students living on reserve will never complete high school, while unemployment rates are two-times that of the non-Aboriginal population. Health challenges which include obesity, diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS mean that First Nations Peoples face a shorter life span than other Canadians, while suicide is now one of the leading causes of death among Aboriginal peoples between ages 10 and 24. The Aboriginal population represents the fastest growing youth population in the country. Aboriginal youth under the age of 25 represent more than half of the total Aboriginal population in the country.

The proposed project aims to limit the challenges and build on the strengths of Aboriginal youth and their communities, while supporting the value of culture and identity. A key component of this project will be the promotion of youth engagement through leadership activities, volunteer work and relationship building with other members of the community. The project will engage the youth and their communities in part of the design, development, and implementation of the program....from the canoe route selected and the equipment how their community is properly represented along the canoe trip route (such as flags used....even artwork on canoes or paddles). This last part allows for increased community pride and ownership, both of which are key to a sustainable program.

The project deals directly with youth....many at risk....or in danger of becoming at risk. It could provide an alternative based on Anishinaabe culture and traditions. It involves a journey by canoe....a very traditional basis of transportation....but far more than just a canoe trip. It will develop leadership.

When one thinks of leadership, one can be reminded of watching a V-formation of geese in flight. The lead goose is sticking its neck out to break the air currents for the rest of the flock, thereby making it easier for the others to fly (as they "draft" in behind). But if you watch that V-formation long enough, you'll see that the lead goose will eventually fall back and another one will come up to take its place. So a good leader will stick its neck out for whover is following, setting a good example for the others; but also a good leader knows when to let another lead, when to let others have a chance. Obviously there is also the need to be a team player, and in working with others. All of which can be accomplished on such a canoe trip.

The Anishinaabe Babamadizwin: A Journey By Canoe would be a First Nations canoe project for Anishinaabe youth….using the canoe as a means to help these young people on their life's journey. Such canoe trips could develop leadership skills as well as increase awareness of their Native culture and traditions. The youth participants return to their communities as future leaders. As example the youth could educate and motivate their family and friends about various environmental issues and possible solutions. Thus by engaging these Native youth on such trips awareness is brought to Mother Earth….the environment….wilderness....water….the Great Lakes….even First Nations rights.

A number of canoe trips would be undertaken from various Anishinaabe (Ojibway) communities from around Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, plus those along Lake Superior near Sault Ste. Marie, as well as from inland such as Temagami, North Bay, Lake Simcoe or even the Kawarthas….all ending up together at Manitoulin Island. These communities would be invited by a yet to be determined host community.

Such trips are thus centered around one of the Great Lakes….the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe people.....using many of the traditional canoe routes taken by the Anishinaabe people.

Such trips could involve bark canoes….and wood canvas canoes….built by First Nations youth….for the trips. This past summer bark canoes were built by Native youth in Ottawa….on Bear Island in Temagami ….and in Oshawa. Hopefully 4 wood canvas canoes, specifically built for this project, could be painted by various Anishinaabe artists….and after the trip ends each of these canoes could be raffled off to further fund canoe projects in First Nation communities.

The journey taken by canoe will bring the Anishinaabe youth back to their roots through traditional canoe routes....but also help guide them on their own life's journey.