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A Day in the Life of a Fur Trader - By Colten Wolfe

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Oct 16, 2015

The internship has been an absolute blast! The last three days have been devoted to teaching about Michigan’s history and I have been playing the part of a French fur trader from the year 1800. This gives me the opportunity to dress as a voyageur and teach the children about what life was like before Michigan’s statehood.  It’s also a great opportunity to start a conversation with the students about conservation and natural resource use.  Conversely this results in the children teaching me about the joys of technology and the inventions they are familiar with which have made many of the tasks I end up showing them obsolete.  Like candle making for example.  They say, “Where we come from we don’t use candles anymore.”  At that point the hardest part of the day is remembering to act confused when they attempt to explain how light bulbs work for the tenth time!  It is such a joy to watch them connect the dots as they work through the steps of explaining to me the miracle of electricity.

After I make candles with the students, we venture to the wigwam. Once inside, we all sit down and I begin telling the kids about the Ottawa people and how they worked in close synchrony with the environment and how they made the most of the earth’s seasonal provisions.  Fall, winter, spring and summer all bring a different routine and responsibility to the Ottawa way of life.  I am amazed at the calming effect the wigwam has on each group.  It is as if they enter a new world and time.  Their senses are heightened as they make observations about everything they see and touch.  They especially sympathize with the difficulties the Ottawa experienced during the winter months.

Finally, I tell the kids about how the Ottawa use a bow drill to create fire. Despite the fact that getting a fire started from a bow drill is difficult even for an adult, they approach the activity with unwavering optimism.  With some practice, and time, they will eventually see smoke rise from their spindle.  Smiles and excitement don their faces, as is often the result when informal awareness meets first hand experience.  Two key ingredients for good memory making.

Eventually Eli, my co-instructor, will interject and inform the group that it is time to go.  He will take my group to learn about other aspects of Michigan’s history, like the logging era and the lumberjacks that roamed our northwoods long ago.  As for me, the departure of one group means the arrival of another and the process begins again.  Rain, snow, or shine we will teach, just as the voyageurs would.