Native Indian Canoes

Native Indian Canoes: Chippewa Canoes

Native Indian Canoes
Facts and history about the life and lifestyles of Native American Indians. Native Indian Canoes were the primary method of transportation by many tribes of North America who relied on them for hunting, fishing and trading expeditions. Three main types of canoes were built, dugout, birch bark and tule (reed) canoes, and their designs were based on the natural resources available in the different regions.

The Northeast woodlands, and the tribes of eastern Canada built canoes made from the bark of trees (the birch bark canoe). Tribes in the Northwest Pacific Coast, California and the Plateau regions built dugout canoes. Some Californian tribes built canoes made from reeds (the tule canoe).

Native American Life - Native Indian Canoes
The life, history and lifestyle of Native American Indians is a varied and fascinating subject. The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Native Indian Canoes. For additional facts and history refer to the articles on the
Birch Bark Canoe and the Dugout Canoe.

Native Indian Canoes Fact Sheet for kids

  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 1: The different tribes across the length and breadth of North America developed their own styles and designs of canoe of many hundreds of years
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 2: The most common styles of canoe were the Dugout canoe and the Birch Bark canoe
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 3: The Dugout canoe was made from the hollowed out log of a large tree such as the cedar. The Native Americans used controlled fire or steaming to soften the would so they could carve and shape their dugout canoe to have straight sides with a flat bottom
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 4: The Birch Bark canoe was lighter than the dugout and made using a wooden framework and the tough paper-like bark peeled from the birch tree
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 5: The sizes of the boats varied according to the reason they were built. A canoe could take as few as one person, although were usually built to take between four and six people.
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 6: The smaller type of canoe was used for transportation purposes along the many waterways of the lands for hunting and fishing trips.
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 7: The smaller boats were also used for trading expeditions with enough capacity to take on the cargo and trade goods
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 8: A typical birch bark canoe measured about 21 feet long (7 metres) and 3 feet wide (1 metre) and could carry 4 - 6 men and about 200 pounds of cargo (91 kilograms)
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 9: Other boats were used to transport war parties mounting attacks on enemy tribes. The Dugout war canoe built by the Northwest Pacific coast tribes were up to 60 feet (18 m) long and took up to two years to build
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 10: Some tribes used the boats for recreation and sports. The picture at the top of the page by the famous artist George Catlin depicts a canoe race held by the Chippewa (Ojibwe) tribe. The races are shown standing in their canoe to achieve the greatest speed and enhance their balancing skills. The race not only gave great pleasure to the spectators but also trained the young men in the art of steering and paddling the canoe.
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 11: The tribes who built and travelled in Birch bark canoes included the Abenaki, Chippewa (Ojibwe), Huron, Kickapoo and the Pennacook Northeast woodlands tribes. Other woodland tribes used both the birch bark and dugout styles of canoe
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 12: The dugout canoe was built using hollowed-out logs of large trees. The Native Americans hollowed out logs using controlled, frequently extinguished fire or a steaming technique to soften the timber so they could carve and shape their dugout canoe to have a flat bottom with straight sides.
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 13: The highly ornate dugout canoe was built by Northwest Pacific Coast tribes such as the Bella Coola, Tlingit, Chinook, Haida, Tsimshian, and the Coast Salish.
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 14: The distinctive Northwest Coast canoes were long and narrow and made from a single red cedar log. They were built in different sizes for transportation along rivers and also bigger seagoing canoes used on whaling expeditions. The Northwest Coast canoe was often highly decorated with crest designs, painted black and red
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 15: The ornate bow and stern pieces were carved and added separately to the canoes, often depicting the heads of mythical and symbolic creatures
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 16: A more basic style of dugout canoe was built by the tribes who inhabited the Plateau region including the Coeur d'Alene, Nez Perce, Cayuse, Modoc, Palouse, Spokane, Walla Walla and the Yakama tribes.
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 17: The Lewis and Clark expedition received help from the Nez Perce tribe to build dugout canoes. The dugout canoes enabled the Corps of Discovery to float downstream from the Clearwater River in Idaho to the Snake River and into the Columbia River in the state of Washington
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 18: The Californian Chumash Tribe were great fishers and constructed a distinctive type of  planked, 30 feet long seagoing canoe, called a tomol. Other Californian tribes built canoes made from reeds referred to as the tule canoe
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 19: The different types of canoes were propelled by either paddling or polling, depending on the design of the boat and the nature of the water
  • Native Indian Canoes Fact 20: Native Americans, with no knowledge of the wheel, used the canoe to cross the waterways of North America
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