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HomeArts & EntertainmentWillow Winds: Northern Michigan man keeps traditional living skills alive

Willow Winds: Northern Michigan man keeps traditional living skills alive

Note: This FLASHBACK originally ran in 2016.

By Neil Sauter

MIKADO – Jim Miller of Mikado is a talented craftsman. Visiting his workshop, full of handmade items such as bows and arrows, snowshoes, and canoes, is like stepping back into the 1700′. Miller specializes in traditional survival items, utilized by the Native tribes of Michigan, and he uses nothing but natural materials found in the North Woods.

The string for his bow for, instance, is made of tendon from deer; the bow itself is carved from an ash tree. The arrows are made of cedar wood and turkey feathers bound with sinew.

These items aren’t just for show. Miller uses them to hunt, evidenced by multiple deer and bear skins from animals he’ shot with his own hand-made items and tanned himself. He hauls them back to his house using hand-made snowshoes and a birch backpack.

Remarkably, Miller has learned how to do most of these things from books.

‘Of all the skills I have learned, my favorite is building the birch bark canoes,’ he said. ‘It’ special to take it out on the water after all the hard work that went into making it. There are other talented birch bark canoe builders across the country, and I’ve learned a lot from talking with them about their processes.’

Miller’ primary focus as of late has been building items for display at museums. One of his birch bark canoes is on display at the National Maritime Museum in Alpena, and he is currently working on a six-foot birch bark canoe for the Cranbrook Institute of Science, Michigan Museum of Natural History in Bloomfield, Michigan. He has made wigwams for the Chippewa Nature Center, among other places, and has even been commissioned to make items for movies.

Miller is also knowledgeable about edible wild foods, trapping, pottery, and wigwam building. For many years he taught an outdoor survival skills summer camp at his home, which he refers to as Willow Winds. Although he no longer holds the camp, he is still active in giving classes and demonstrations at museums and schools. Anyone interested in scheduling Miller to provide group lessons can contact him via his website www.jmwillowwinds.com.


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