Wayne “Minogiizhig” Valliere

Grantee:  Wayne “Minogiizhig” Valliere
Native Citizenship:  Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Location:  Lac du Flambeau, Wis.
Award:  2017 NACF Mentor Artist Fellowship
Discipline: Traditional Arts, Birch-bark Canoe Making
Web Site:  None

Valliere is a well-respected birch bark canoe builder in his community. Bestowed as a cultural bearer by his elders, Valliere is skilled in many cultural art practices, and also works in several traditional art forms such as regalia making; basketry; pipe making; drum making; crafting hunting tools, traps; lodges; snowshoes; toboggans; and cradleboards.

Wayne Valliere will mentor an apprentice in traditional birch-bark canoe making. Traditionally, a family worked together building canoes. Men and women worked side-by-side in joined work efforts, and everyone understood the process from harvesting to launch. Although canoes built today are still hand-carved in small groups, women’s traditions and gender roles have changed as Western values have crept into the community. One aspect remains the same, however, and that is any canoe builder must build at least four canoes under the teachings of a master builder, whereby upon completion, tradition then allows one to build his or her own canoe. Such is the case with Valliere’s apprentice, Lawrence Mann (Forest County Potawatomi), who will be building his fourth canoe. Valliere’s apprentice will then by tradition be allowed to build a canoe on his own. Valliere will finish teaching Mann traditional Ojibwe canoe-building protocols, traditions, and ecosystem knowledge that is also needed to be a fully-fledged traditional canoe builder.

Virtually unknown, Ojibwe birch-bark canoe building is a threatened traditional art form in Wisconsin. Its sustained practice is important to keeping Ojibwe culture alive, but a more vital fact is that the Anishinaabe people have always associated their lifeways in connection to water, both in space (Lake Superior is the center of their world, their roads were waterways) and in time (ice and snow conditions, natural fish cycles, and wild rice growth). So continued canoe building and their use can maintain this inherent water-culture tie and divulge a profound traditional ecological knowledge. As a long-experienced canoe builder, Valliere has come to know the holistic complexities of birch, cedar, and spruce forest ecosystems and will teach this knowledge to his apprentice during the process of building a canoe.

The [cultural and traditional] knowledge does not belong to me. It belongs to my community. And it’s my job to keep our culture alive. That’s why I do the work I do.
~ Wayne “Minogiizhig” Valliere

Mentor and Apprentice Joint Art Project:

Wayne Valliere guided his apprentice, Lawrence Mann, through the carving and completion of two canoes during the Mentor Artist Fellowship year. Mann, by tradition, may now build canoes on his own as a full-fledged canoe builder. In addition, the pair participated in numerous community events and activities, and spent significant time teaching canoe culture to the youth in their community and surrounding area.