Canoe Building

Canoes were a major source of transportation for many Native Americans groups. These small, curved bottom boats enabled Native Americans to easily get from one place to the other. Canoes were vital in times of war, for trade purposes, and as a means of visiting other tribes.

Native American canoes were fairly lightweight and shallow. Many were only large enough for two men. This enabled them to be carried, if necessary. However, some Native American groups made different types of canoes. For instance, the Iroquois made large canoes. These larger canoes were intended to carry groups of people and/or trade goods. The wood that was used to make canoes was whatever was available in any given region.

The process of making canoes was pretty universal. No matter which Indian group was making the boat, the process started with stripping the bark from long pieces of wood. These pieces would then be twisted together until they formed the frame of a boat. The boat frame was then set out to dry in the sun. It wouldn't be ready for the next step in the process until the wood was free from moisture.

After the frame had dried, either leather or bark was placed on the frame with something such as spruce gum acting as the adhesive. The adhesive not only kept the boat covering in place, it protected it against leaks. The last step of the canoe building process was the decorating process. How canoes were decorated depended on the customs of the Native American group.

For more information on Native American and canoes, see the following resources:

Native Tech: Examines how Native Americans built and used birch bark canoes.
Native American Inventions: Examines the different inventions created by Native Americans, including canoes.
Photo of Native Americans Making Canoes: Includes an image showing how these people built canoes and boats.
Native American Canoe Legend: Information on Native American legends, including one about canoes.

Just as people today couldn't imagine life without automobiles, life would have been much different for Native Americans if they didn't have canoes. Canoes were used on lakes, rivers, streams, and on the ocean. Since they can be used on most any type of water, if you are looking for a fun family project, why not consider canoe building? After the boat is complete you can use it on the weekends and on family vacations.

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