Mitchell Museum
of the American Indian

3001 Central Street
Evanston, IL 60201
847.475.1030

The Teaching Wigwam

Ongoing Exhibition

Located on the second floor of the museum, the teaching lodge is an interactive exhibit that provides unique hands on experience for museum patrons. The exhibit focuses on an Anishinaabek (Potawatomie, Oddawa, and Ojibwe) hunting lodge and aspects of Anishinaabek culture. Wiig-i-waams varied in size from 8 to 20 feet in diameter, and could house two people to a family of 8-10 members.

Our exhibit features a Bajiishka'ogaan (ba-jeesh-ka-o-gaan) which is made up of two words; bajiishkikodan (to be made into a point/pointed); and o'gaan (house/shelter). It is a low-lying, conical lodge used for temporary purposes, such as hunting and fishing camps, unlike the larger dome shaped wiigiwaam which tend to be larger and more permanent. This type of lodge could house anywhere from two to four adults and would be used primarily for sleeping, while most camp activities would be conducted outside. The lodge in the exhibit is constructed of rough birch and box elder limbs and covered with sheets of birch bark.

The Mural:

The Mural represents the landscape and ecosystem that existed in the Chicago-Evanston-Skokie area and the plants and animals that are significant to the Pottawatomie, who lived in this area (and modern descendents who still do). The mural depicts a wetland filled with wild rice. Many of the plants in the mural are significant to the native peoples that lived in the great lakes wood land areas. The trees in the mural are the Sugar Maple and White Birch on the right side, and White Swamp Oak on the left side, and in the center you will find Wild Rice. The animals include the bear, whooping crane, loon, eastern painted turtle, wolf, porcupine, and ruffed grouse.

The Plants:

Although there are many different types of Maple trees, only two varieties are taped for maple sugar and syrup. These two are the Black Maple and the sugar Maple. Inina-atig (sugar maple) is represented in the painting because it was the main type tapped for its sugar, however Silver and Red Maples are also tapped. Along with being cooked down in sugar, raw sap was, and is still, drunk as a tonic and utilized as a cooking medium.


Wiish-kobi-mitigo-mizh (white oak) is the main variety of oak tree that is used for both food and medicine in this region of the country. The tree’s acorns are  boiled and ground up to make flour. The leaves and bark of the tree were also boiled to make a soothing tea.


Wiig-wass-aatig (white birch) had multiple uses and is a primary natural resource for Native Peoples of the Midwest, Northeast, and Canadian Subarctic regions. The bark was used to make canoes, containers, and shelters. The white outer bark was also used as a type of paper and shredded to fuel fires. The bark was also rolled into long torches and used to illuminate the water to both spot and attract walleye for spear fishing at night.


Ma-noo-min (wild rice seeds) were a main source of food for the American Indians. The seeds are gathered by pulling the “heads” over the sides of the canoe and knocking them with paddles. They are then slow dried or slow roasted in order to crack the hulls and get at the grain. The grain is separated from the hulls by tramping and then winnowed (to separate the inedible part of the plant from the grain by means of a current of air).

The Animals:

Each of the animals in the mural represent Anishinaabe Dodemak (Ojibwa, Oddawa, and Pottawatomie clans) with the exception of the porcupine whose quills were (and still are) used as decorations on clothing and baskets, before and after the introduction of glass beads. Ordinarily, most of these animals would not be together as they are depicted in the mural, nor would they be around for humans to see. However, because each of these animals represents a clan, their regular behaviors have been altered.

The mural depicts the five major Anishinaabe Dodem. M'ko Dodem (Bear Clan) traditionally were the keepers of the peace in the village, the community. Je-jakwe' Dodem (Thunderer/ Whooping Crane Clan) and Mag Dodem (Loon Clan) are orators and leaders. M'shike' Dodem (Turtle Clan) are the wise ones who passed on knowledge and were also healers. Mewi'a Dodem (Wolf Clan) are the warriors and protectors of the village and community. The clans had responsibilities not just to their members, but each filled important roles in the greater Anishnaabe society.

Natural Resources and Tools of the Hunting Camp:

Basswood Bark

Wiigobaatig (wee-go-bah-tik) American Basswood tree/ American Linden (Tilia Americana), is native to all of New England and the Midwestern United States. It can grow up to 65 feet tall. Basswood inner bark is very tough, and is cut it into thin strips and used it for rope, mats, and even bandages.  The flowers of the Basswood tree are very fragrant and attractive to bees who use the nectar to make a very high-quality honey. The wood of this tree is both lightweight and odorless, and is commonly used for boxes and crates.

Hide Stretcher (Naazhiiga'igan)

 Bashkwegin (Untanned hide/rawhide) and Asekaan (tanned hide) was one of the most important materials used by Native peoples. This piece on display came from a deer, but buffalo, elk, moose, and caribou were also used. The skin was prepared by soaking it in a water and brain solution and stretched onto a wood frame. All the tissues and hair are cut or scraped off and the skin is left to dry in the sun. While animal skin is flexible when wet, it shrinks and becomes hard and stiff when it dries. Cut into strips, rawhide could be used to lash the parts of a wigwam together, as the lacing for snowshoes, and for making rope. Larger pieces were made into drum heads and for the soles of moccasins.

Birch Bark Containers

These containers are made from the bark of the Wiigwassaatig (paper birch -Betula papyrifera). The outer bark is peeled from the tree in the spring or early summer, leaving the dark brown inner bark so that the tree is not harmed. Because it is waterproof and easy to work with, birch bark was used to make many different types of containers, including trays, dishes, storage boxes, and cooking pots. The bark is cut to the right size and shape, and then sewn together with spruce roots or Basswood bark twine. The edges can also be sealed with pine pitch or spruce resin so that the container can be used to carry water or hung over a fire to cook a soup or stew. Birch bark cutouts or stencils often were used to decorate containers. The tall trapezoidal container, called a Makak, is a storage container made to store rice, dried meat, or maple sugar. there is also a Wiig-waas-inaagan, which is a dish for eating


Deer Skins

Waa-waashkeshi (white-tailed deer -Odocoileus virginianus) is found in most of North and Central America and northern parts of South America. It lives in a variety of habitats from forests to deserts and has a life span of about 9 to 12 years. The male (ay-aabe) can weigh up to 400 pounds, while the female (onii-jaa-niw) averages around 200 pounds. Only bucks have antlers, which are branched; the antlers are shed each year, and later re-grow. Native Americans use all part of the deer. Its meat provides food, the hide is used for clothing and blankets, and the bones and antlers make good agricultural tools. The hides inside the wigwam have not been tanned, but will soften with age and use. The hide on the frame is ready to be tanned so it can be used for winter clothing. The wooden frame keeps the hide in shape while it is drying.


Doorway Cover

Gi-bish-kwaande'on (doorway cover) of the wiigiwam was usually made of an animal skin or wool trade blanket. This elk hide was smoke-tanned over a wood fire. The smoke from the charring wood contains various chemicals, which tan the skin without the application of fat or other materials. O-mash-kooz (elk) are members of the deer family and can grow in size up to 500 pounds. They live in a variety of habitats ranging from coastal forests to alpine meadows, from dry desert valleys to snowy mountain ridges. Today there are about one million elk in North America, compared to more than 10 times that number before European contact.


Grass Mats

A-pakwe-shk-way (cattails/cattail mat- Typha latifolia) were used as the covering for the wigwam in the warm weather. The space between the individual plant stalks allowed air to circulate through the structure.  In the winter, several different coverings were used. The innermost layer was made of rush mats. Next, a layer of moss served as insulation with the birch bark laid on top.  The mats were made by women during the summer months. The stalks were bleached and dried in the sun and then woven together on a frame. Like the birch bark mats these could be rolled up for storage or transportation.

 

Toboggans

Odabaggan, were used to carry personal belongings from one place to another or to bring furs and meat back from hunting.  In the Arctic, toboggans may be made of whalebone, but they are more generally built of strips of wood - hickory, ash, or maple - lashed together with rawhide. Bark runners were sometimes used to make the toboggan run more smoothly over the snow.  Today’s Olympic sports of bob-sledding and luge trace their development back to the Native American toboggan.

 

 

Snowshoes

Aagim are made of a curved wooden frame with a webbing of tightly stretched rawhide. They are tied onto the foot and ankle with leather straps, while the heel and toe are left free to move.  The wide frame and webbing of the snowshoe help to spread the person's weight over a large area and walk on the surface of deep snow, instead of sinking into it. Not only does this make it possible to travel, but also to hunt moose and caribou and tend traps during the winter months.  Different tribes’ snowshoes are different shapes. The Chippewa snowshoes are relatively long and pointed at both ends, making it easy to travel on hard-packed snow. In Maine the Micmac use a “bear paw” shape that is good for walking in dense forests. The largest snowshoes are used for hunting by the Cree in Canada and are nearly six feet long and turned up at the toe.  Modern snowshoes are made with aluminum frames and nylon lacing, but they are all based on the original Native designs.

 

Beaver Skin

Amik (beaver) was a major source of meat, fur, fat, and tools for the Native peoples of the Great Lakes. Because beaver fur is both waterproof and warm, it was used for hats, mittens, robes, and even moccasin liners.  The beaver is also an important part of the spiritual life of the Great Lakes tribes as a symbol of resourcefulness.  In the 17th and 18th centuries beaver pelts became a major item of trade with Europeans. Felt hats made from pressed beaver fur was a particularly popular item. Trade goods exchanged for beaver pelts included metal knives, awls and kettles, steel flints for starting fires, guns and ammunition, woolen blankets, and glass beads for jewelry.

Exhibit Sponsors:

The Wigwam and hands-on teaching materials were made and provided by Ken Schwuchow. The gallery is sponsored by Robert M. Gluckman MD, an important friend to the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian. It is Dr. Gluckman’s hope that this installation will inspire others to recognize the valuable contributions American Indians have made to the Nation and to learn more about Native American people and communities.

 

Sources:

John Low. (http://publications.newberry.org/indiansofthemidwest/identities/cultural-identity/video-transcript-john-low-on-potawatomi-clans/).

Anishnaabemowin (Potawatomi. Oddawa, Ojibwe Language) provided by http://ojibwe.lib.umn.edu/english/search/lodge?x=0

 

 

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