Native American Crafts Using Birch Bark

Written by megan shoop
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Native American Crafts Using Birch Bark
(basket image by Maciej Syrek from Fotolia.com)

Native Americans often create items from the natural world, using clay dug from river beds and bark stripped from trees. Birch bark is especially well-liked because it is thin, pliable and sturdy if used correctly. In times past, Native Americans created birch bark items for personal use--many still do today. Some also make pieces for sale. Help your children learn about this aspect of Native American culture by helping them create crafts that mimic traditional items.

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Woven Baskets

Many Native American tribes are famous for their beautiful baskets. The tribes in the Northeast United States used birch bark strips for theirs. They stripped fallen branches of their bark and cut the bark into very thin strips. Some of these baskets were dyed or painted on the outside and many were decorated with twists and curls of bark on the outside.

You can help your child make a birch bark basket by soaking and cutting some birch bark into strips, or you can purchase a faux birch bark weaving kit from NativeTech in the reference section.

Ladles and Dishes

Birch bark's remarkable pliability and tensile strength makes it perfect for folding into many different shapes. Native Americans made ladles, bowls and cups from it by folding sheets of birch bark into shapes. Their ladles consisted of a cone of birch bark tied to the end of a branch. Their cups were rolled tubes of bark with carefully sealed bottoms and their bowls looked like squares with rounded corners. Some bowls had woven handles attached to make them into kettles. Kits for all of these crafts are available from NativeTech in the reference section.

Canoes

Rivers used to be human beings' most efficient roadways. As such, we created many ways to traverse them. The Northeastern native tribes made canoes out of birch bark. The canoes consisted of a single large sheet of bark folded and stitched along a curve at each end. They were made waterproof with pine pitch. Some canoes were branch frames covered in birch bark and were more complicated to make.

Help your child make his own tiny birch bark canoe. Find a small strip of birch bark and soak it to make it pliable, then fold it in half and stitch the ends together along a curve, cutting away excess bark. Gently push down on the inside of the canoe's bottom to make it flat.

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