Penobscot Nation
YouTube/Old Town

Passing the Power of the Canoe to the Indigenous Penobscot Nation's Next Generation

As Barry Dana, Penobscot Nation Tribal Elder says, "You cannot live on an island and not be directly and even spiritually connected to what's surrounding that island, which is our river." Considering an existence of some 13,000 years, we are quite fortunate that the Indigenous Penobscot Nation have shared their experience with Old Town, who shared it with us.

The Penobscot Nation Tribal Elders and Historians have recently produced a video that gives other outdoor loving folks like us insight into how critical the Penobscot River and the canoe are to the tribe's past and future. As outdoorsmen and women, we have a never ending desire to learn all we can about life in the great outdoors, and knowing how indigenous peoples survived and thrived along the waterways of North America goes a long way towards increasing that knowledge.

Knowing the importance of the canoe to everyday life along the river, tribal historians have long since developed a program to encourage and advance canoeing to the next generation so that traditional culture is passed down to younger tribal members in the form of youth canoeing programs.

Old Town Steps Up to the Plate

Penobscot Nation

YouTube/Old Town

Although the Penobscot canoe has been a part of the Old Town line up since the early 1980s, it is the name of the river that runs through the city of Old Town, Maine, and it gets its name from the indigenous peoples who have been living in the area for thousands of years.

The Penobscot people had been making birch bark canoes for their tribe for many generations, and now have long since inspired the company and their employees to create recreational watercraft in ways that will both honor and keep the tradition alive. The canoe is a cherished form of water transportation that has stood the test of time because of the way that it harnesses the spirit of adventure, as it's designed for day-tripping, river travel, and any number of perfect family outings.

Since Old Town (which is a part of the Johnson Outdoors family) has a sincere purpose to inspire people to get outdoors, it goes without saying that they have partnered with such esteemed organizations as the National Wildlife Federation to build on Johnson Outdoors' legacy of sustainability and commitment to leaving nature better than they found it.

Now, by partnering with the NWF, the Old Town parent company has created the "Clean Earth Challenge" with the ongoing goal of cleaning up one million pieces of trash from waterways and ecosystems around North America. Old Town has also joined with some twelve different kayak fishing clubs (and their tournaments) across the United States to promote kayak fishing and support local kayak fishing communities.

The Penobscot People and the Birchbark Canoe

The Penobscot Nation built their community on and near the Penobscot River, and around the surrounding bay. For centuries they have lived and worked on the river as hunters, fishermen, and stewards of the land and water and their name is a fabled one. It is said that it takes some 500 hours of labor and love for tribal members to create one birchbark canoe, known as "one of the greatest inventions in human history."

Tribal artisans had the knowledge and ability to take virtually one piece of birchbark to make one canoe from stem to stern, giving every canoe its incredibly beautiful look by placing the inside of the bark to the outside of the canoe and forming the gunnels from ash and cedar. The seams are held together with spruce root and then waterproofed with sap, while the shape of the canoe itself was built from cedar strips cut into symmetrical pieces.

Incredibly, the Penobscot people would traditionally sink their canoes in the fall, leaving them under the ice for the winter, to preserve the wood which would keep them sturdy and useful for many years.

Canoeing and the Next Generation


The first time we ever sat down in a canoe it may have seemed a bit tippy, but we couldn't wait to launch. Once we've had some time to settle in and enjoy the experience, we began to realize that being out on the water in this fashion was one of the best ways to spend some quality time outdoors.

It comes down to the fact that someone taught us how to use a canoe and we would like to pay that forward to the next generation. For the Penobscot people, this was a time honored tradition, borne from necessity, handed down from generation to generation just like hunting and fishing.

Nowadays, this means not only teaching young people to use watercraft safely, but move on to the point of having the quality to compete against other teams from around North America, and do it quite well, thank you. Programs like these expose willing youths to an essential element of their culture and way of life through mentorship and competition that has something for everyone.

Now, terms like "paddling" and "paddler" have come into the forefront of outdoor recreation and have taken on new meaning for young people when it comes to taking part in outdoor recreational events.

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