Wild Wonders: Wikhikon (Birch Bark Map)

Native American Heritage Month

WIKHIKON – BIRCH BARK MAPS 

Tools:

  • Birch bark or piece of paper
  • Pencil or colored pencils

Before You Explore:

If you need to leave a message for someone about where you are going and when you will be back, how would you do it? How do you leave a message when your culture communicates using only your voices?

When traveling, Wabanaki people made maps on birchbark (wikhikon), using pictures rather than a system of letters and numbers to communicate with each other. For example, “Arrows drawn above a solid line indicated the direction of travel when the person was leaving their starting point. The use of an arrow underneath a solid line indicated the direction of travel when returning to your starting point.”

Connect with Nature:

  • Identify a place where you want your partner to meet you outside.
  • Work with your partner to create your own set of symbols/pictures to communicate. Or, just create a map that you think they will understand.
  • Draw a map for your partner on your birch bark* or paper, including at least three different landmarks. Think about how to send your partner in the right direction.
  • Afterward, talk about what worked and what didn’t work. Make changes and try again!

*Do not remove birchbark from live trees as this can injure or kill the tree.

Dive Deeper!

Here in Maine, we reside in the homeland of the Wabanaki people, or “People of the Dawnland,” whose tribes today include the Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy. Each tribe maintains its own government, schools, cultural center, and manages its lands and natural resources. In addition to the tribal communities, or reservations, thousands of Native people live in towns and cities across Maine. Many of your neighbors, classmates, and friends may be Wabanaki!

Learn more about Indigenous people in Maine here at the Abbe Museum website: https://bit.ly/37sCO6e. Many thanks to the Abbe Museum for this Wild Wonders project.