Ojibwe Birchbark – Jewlery

Birchbark is an extremely versatile natural material found in northern Minnesota. It has been used historically around the globe in jewelry, containers such as baskets and canoes and homes. The strong and water-resistant cardboard-like bark can be easily cut, bent, and sewn, which makes it a valuable building material. Birch bark also contains substances of medicinal and chemical interest. Some of those products (such as betulin) also have fungicidal properties that help preserve bark artifacts, as well as food preserved in bark containers. (Wikepedia)

We will look at the ability of creating a design using the dark and light layers of the birchbark. If the bark is removed from the tree in winter or early spring, it retains the dark inner layer that can be scraped off to make a design.. Bark like this is called “winter bark” but I have found it on trees in early September. (http://jumaka.com/birchbarkcanoe/materialspage/birchbark.htm).

Assignment: You are going to make a broach out of birchbark. It will have a birchbark scraped silhouette of your clan animal and a small sweet grass edge.

1. Using you iPad find a photograph of your clan animal in profile. It should be an image of the animal’s whole body as seen from the side view. Draw it out in your sketchbook no larger than about 4″ x 5″.

2. Choose a piece of birchbark. Remove enough layers of bark to prepare for a smooth even surface to work from. Draw your animal silhouette in the center of your birchbark, leaving a small even border on all four sides.

3. Using an x-acto knife, carefully scrap away either the background or foreground – depending on the color you want your animal to be.

4. Using the dremel tool, carefully drill holes in the edge . Space your holes carefully. Do not get too close to the edge.

5. With sweet grass provided. create a small frame around your broach. Sew the sweet grass to the edge using the imitation sinew. Observe the demonstration.

6. A pin back will be glued to the back of your completed broach with Super Glue.

Grading reflects successful completion of the broach based on instruction.

The Clan System for most Indigenous cultures was traditionally a form of governance for the people.  Every clan had their own roles and purpose that pertained to the greater good of the entire community.  Within the Ojibwe Clan System each clan had not only their own purpose, but the members of that clan was said to have certain personality traits to assist with upholding the clan structure.  You may ask, “What if a person within a certain clan portrayed personality traits of another clan?”  There was also a place within each clan for members to be representatives of other clans.  In this way every person, role and personality was honored, respected and had a place that was fitting for the individual.  For the Ojibwe people every clan had representation at community gatherings and within vital decision making. (http://ojibweresources.weebly.com/the-clan-system.htmI.

If you know your clan work with that animal in your design. If you don’t know your clan choose an animal you feel a connection to from this list:

The Crane Clan: The crane stands in the water observing the world above the water line. Because the crane observes the outside world the Crane clan is known as the Outside Chief. The outside chief is responsible for negotiating with people from other communities.
The Bear Clan: The mother bear protects her cubs with ferocity. She is also cunning and knowledgeable about the plants of the forest. Like the mother bear, the Bear Clan is responsible for protecting their people. It is said that people of the Bear Clan are short tempered and live on the outside of the village to ensure the safety of the gentler clans inside the village. The bear clan are also the medicine people for they know the healing ways of the plants available to them.
The Loon Clan: The loon dives and sees the happenings inside the water. In this way the Loon Clan is known as the Inside Chief as they are responsible for settling disputes and issues within their home community.


The Deer or Hoof Clan were known for their kindness, gentle and soft spoken nature like the animals they represent. The Hoof Clan were responsible for looking after the social aspects of the community including ceremonies and celebrations.
The Marten Clan: The small agile marten is limber, quick tempered, ferocious, has quick reflexes and is an excellent hunter. Members of the Marten Clan carry these characteristics and as a result are the strategists, warriors and builders within their community.
The Bird Clan can fly high in the sky observing the world at great distances. Like the Eagle, the bird is known to be closest to the creator as they are part of the sky world and can access his/her wisdom. The Bird Clan are the keepers of knowledge and responsible for spreading the seeds of knowledge. The Bird Clan were traditionally the teachers and farmers.
The Fish Clan: The fish watch the sky and have the knowledge of the sun, stars and moon. In this way the Fish Clan hold the most intelligence and are the peoples philosophers. They are also advisors to the Chief Clans.