ST. CHARLES – The St. Charles Park District this fall once again will team up with St. Charles School District 303 on a Native American-influenced outdoor program.
The program, called Native Illinois, is part of the third-grade Native American studies and archeology curriculum. More than 1,000 students will visit a variety of stations to learn about geologic time periods, dig in specially prepared “archaeology pits” and experience firsthand what life was like in a Potawatomi village, circa 1750, according to a park district news release.
Part of the program will feature a dugout canoe created by Denis Kania, the park district’s manager of natural areas. Kania’s workspace for the canoe is outside Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, 3795 Campton Hills Drive in St. Charles. Visitors to the center can watch Kania carve and chisel the canoe out of a felled cottonwood tree.
The word “dugout” indicates that the canoe is dug out of a log by hand using techniques similar to those Native Americans employed centuries ago, according to the release.
Native Americans typically used softwoods such as cottonwood or pine when constructing canoes. They would use fire to help shape the inside of the canoe – burning the wood and scraping it with a clam shell.
Kania does not refer to blueprints or plans when crafting his dugout canoes; even photographs of such Native American boats are hard to find.
“Once I know what I’m trying to create, I want it to look like a replica,” Kania wrote in the release.
During the summer months, Kania typically will spend about an hour each morning working on the dugout canoe and grab a few minutes later in the day, if possible. Visitors to the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center who happen to catch Kania at work are welcome to observe and ask questions. Kania expects to have the canoe completed shortly after the school year resumes.
Working with a log about 2 feet in diameter and 12 feet long, Kania used a chainsaw to roughly prepare the tree by cutting it into a workable length and establishing a stabilizing base. From that point on, however, only hand tools such as axes, hammers and chisels are used to shape the canoe and whittle out the interior space, which can snugly fit one adult or accommodate a few third-graders.
The canoe currently under construction is slated for use in the Native American village demonstration area off Campton Hills Road in St. Charles Township.
Previous Kania-crafted canoes have found their way back to Hickory Knolls Discovery Center as part of their own Native American display that also includes a wigwam Kania constructed.