Community Canoe Celebration in Madison

By Ardith Van Riper

     On February 1, the community gathered for a meal celebration for the completion of a handmade canoe.  Ho-Chunk Nation youth and other tribal youth working under the guidance of Gene Delcourt.  The Madison Metropolitan School District Title VI sponsored the event and the project that began in October 2023.

     Native American Teacher Leader Tara Tindall welcomed everyone and asked Elias Heimlich to say a prayer over the meal. 

     “Odie (Orlando Ike) and Cher (Laubmeier) were really supportive throughout the process,” said Tindall.  They allowed the use of the backroom of the Ho-Chunk Nation Madison Branch Office for the project.

     The canoe was on display while community members ate a potluck dinner.  Shaya Schrieber from the school district said an art teacher would like to store the canoe after completion.

     “Here in Madison, it’s rare if we get opportunities to experience our indigenous culture and this is one of those rare and precious times,” said Tara Tindall.

     Gene Delcourt provided a brief explanation of the canoe-making process.  “This is a birch bark style canoe and very little of it is traditional material,” Delcourt began.  He explained that he read a book and watched tutorial videos to figure out how to craft a canoe.

     They used marine-grade plywood.  It softens when heated.  They soaked the wood for one day and used a clothing steamer to bend the boards.  Then, they placed the boards into platforms until the boards cooled.  Then, they cut the boards to conform to an oval shape.  A polyurethane calk was used to seam the boards together.  Parachute cord was used to lash it.  Then, the tale was added.  The school district purchased cedar wood to make up the ribs.  However, they kept breaking.  Ash wood replaced the cedar wood.  Pine boards made up the inner lining.  Four screws were placed for carrying the canoe.

     Youth and Odie painted images on the canoe.  The handprints were the signatures of the youth.

     Tara Tindall then presented youth participation awards to Kyen Schreiber, Carter Byinton, Gabriel Christner, and Elias Heimlich.  Those not in attendance and were mentioned were Devin Starr and Landyn Morris.  Adults who also received an award were Shaya Schreiber, Rachel Byington, and Forest Smart.

     Orlando Ike presented Gene Delcourt with a token of gratitude, a golden eagle wooden statue.  Then, he presented a crystal eagle statue to Elias Heimlich.  “I’m thankful to be a part of this canoe.  We still have to find a name for this canoe because there was a Ho-Chunk, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Omaha that worked on this canoe.”

     Odie welcomed those in attendance to view the canoe up close, and the mic was open to anyone who wanted to say something.

     The event closed with remarks from Representative Lambert Cleveland, Jr.