Birchbark which is the foundation of most quillwork items formed the basis for many art forms of the Anishinabek as it was readily available, light weight, flexible and long lasting. Birchbark was used in the construction of many items including wigwams (dwellings), canoes, containers for storage and cooking and to make stencils and scrolls.
Long ago, the gathering of birchbark was a community event with many families participating. A camp would be set up and people would gather to listen to the words of an elder who would offer tobacco to the four directions in expressing gratitude for the blessings of creation and the use of materials from the plant and animal life.
The birchbark would be harvested at the time when the first strawberries ripen. It is at this time that the bark peels most easily from the tree. No permanent damage is sustained by the tree as only a few of the top most layers are removed. A relatively straight and knot free tree is selected and a vertical incision is made so that an even piece of bark can be gently pried from the tree. It is then cut to size and typically sewn with the inside layer facing out into boxes and containers or pieced together to make a canoe.