The Great Lakes Intertribal Food Summit was about more than food sovereignty; it was also a way to share traditional skills, like making Anishinabe corn and flour mortars, or bootagan, which as Kevin Finny, director of the Jijak Foundation for the Gun Lake Pottawatomi in Michigan said are “useful for everything.”
Buddy Raphael, of the Grand Traverse Band of Chippewa, demonstrated his grandmother’s bootagan and said the tool was early the “earliest food processor.”
“The age and the history of how many people were fed with this; that amazes me yet today,” Raphael says as he talks about his family bootagan from 1938. It belonged to his grandmother, who was born in 1856.
His family bootagan is made out of a black birch tree, and the hammer is made from the heart of a black birch tree. Now they’re using wood like sugar maple, yellow birch and American elm.
Finny explains how the growth rings are tighter on the yellow birch and it has a different texture than the sugar maple, and the American elm is strong.
“The wood is almost like fiberglass, the fibers all crisscross,” Kevin Finny says in the video about the American elm. “If you make a basket out of elm bark or you make a lodge and you cover it with that elm bark, if you kicked it or you threw something at it, it wouldn’t break because the fibers are crisscrossed.”
Raphael says in the video that he remembers hearing his grandmother sitting there grinding. The bootagan can be used to grind rice meal, buckwheat, corn; really anything that needs to be ground up.
They were used during the food summit for many of the meals made for attendees. In the video, they were making rice flour, they were also used for making meal, corn mush, processing tree nuts, teas and herbs during the summit.
Finny explains in the video how they also came up with a way to cut down the time it takes to make a bootagan from five days to one day. The new way may not be quite as traditional, but it certainly takes those traditional skills to a modern level.
“Original method and the way we started on this was by blowing into a tube… lot of huffing and puffing, goes pretty slow, so the first few of them were done that way,” Finny says in the video. “Then got smart and I got a fireplace bellows… then somebody said to us ‘why not use an air compressor?’ We’re adaptable, and we can find really good ways to do things.”