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Ziibiwing center hosts program on maple syrup traditions

By LINDA GITTLEMAN Gratiot Managing Editor
Sunday, March 6, 2005 3:00 AM EST


Anita Heard talks about her family's history in collecting maple syrup Saturday during a seminar hosted by the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways.

For the six participants at the Ziibiwing Cultural Center Workshop, learning about the Native American way to make maple syrup was just the ticket for a sunny and late winter Saturday.

Conducted by Anita Heard, the workshop offered tips on maple syrup and the history on tapping trees, generating discussions among the participants.

Heard pointed out that the Native Americans taught the white man how to tap and collect the sap and how to boil it down to sugar. But where the Native American learned it, is still unknown, she said.
There are, however, several myths and legends.

One legend centered on a woman who used the "water" from a tapped or perhaps gashed tree while cooking meat. She would have been the first to notice the taste and consistency of that "water" as it boiled down.

Growing up in Blanchard, Heard was taught how to make syrup from her father, Bill Wichert, who taught her to respect the trees. She learned about the Native American ways from her mother, she said.

At the center, Heard pointed to the display of birchwood buckets and cones that were used to catch the sap from the trees by the Native Americans. She told also of the ironwood used to make the pans in which to cook the sap.

Before beginning to drill holes about 2 to 2inches deep in the trees, Heard said she would select the "largest or eldest tree and ask permission to gather."

Also discussed were some of the ways in which to tell that a tree was stressed.

Most sap gathering begins at the end of February or the beginning of March and each tap can yield about 10 gallons a season, perhaps two or three gallons a day, she said.

It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.