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Coloring our Collection: Iskigamizigan (Sugar Bush Camp)

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

Despite what seemed like yet another endless winter, the sunshine and its warmth finally broke through these past few weeks, urging the snow to melt and sap to run up the trees.

One woman standing, one woman seated near boiling pots of maple sap over a wood fire.
Boiling Maple Sap. BCHS Image Collection.

The Iskigamizigan, or sugar bush camp, is a forest stand of maple trees utilized for making maple syrup. Native Americans began collecting maple syrup centuries before Europeans arrived in the now-United States. In Minnesota, the Ojibwe, Dakota, Potawatomi, and Menominee all made (make) maple sugar and taught white settlers their practices.

Before the Treaty Period (1789 to 1871), Native Americans would travel to the generational sugar bush and prepare the campsite, including the families' lodges and food stores. Traditionally, men would hunt and fish while women tapped for sap. Today, permits are available from Beltrami County to tap maple trees. Tribal members may tap trees without a permit on reservation land and territories ceded in the 1855 Treaty; the effort by Native American tribes and activist groups to maintain access to sugar bush on ceded land is ongoing.

I am far more knowledgeable about using and eating maple syrup than I am in the traditions of collection and preparation. For more information about the sugar bush camp, I encourage you to check out this great video from the Minnesota Historical Society or this video from Anton Treuer and Dennis Jones about the Ojibwe maple harvest and harvesting customs.

The Beltrami County Historical Society's collection includes several photographs and artifacts documenting the process and cultural significance of the sugar bush and maple syrup collection to the people and history of Beltrami County. Many of these items are displayed at our History Center and preserved in our collection, including taps, birchbark baskets for sap collection, and kettles for boiling sap into syrup.

Taps for Sap Collection

In honor of the Iskigamizigan and the extraordinary efforts of our elders and current keepers of sacred traditions, BCHS board member Amy K. developed two coloring pages using pictures from our archives. Each page depicts part of the process: tapping maple trees for sap collection and boiling sap to produce syrup. These pages are free to save and download and are printer-friendly (we recommend you select landscape and full-page as your printer settings).

A man and his nephews tapping maple trees for syrup, with a dog.  A QR code is available on the top-right corner to view the original photo.
Happing Uncle Tap the Sugar Maple Trees

The QR Code on each coloring page will take you to a digitized version of the original image in our collection. The images are not exactly the same; parents may encourage their young ones to find the differences between the coloring page and the photograph.

Two women boiling maple syrup over a wood fire with squirrels and chipmunks in the foreground.
Boiling Maple Syrup

We are thrilled to offer these "Color Our Collection" enhanced coloring pages. We look forward to making new pages available throughout the year - including this weekend at Train Days at the Depot! We encourage you to share your finished coloring pages with us on our Facebook page or drop them by the History Center and learn more about Iskigamizigan through the images and artifacts in our collection.

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