1976 Festival Of American Folklife 5 (Algonkin)

Production Date: 
Run Time: 
Smithsonian Institution

Named locations: Grand Island, New York, USA; Northern Ottowa, Canada.
Major themes covered: William Kamonda explains the art of making canoes
Native activities shown:  
Individuals Named:  William Comanda (Algonkin)
Native language spoken: William Comanda (or Commanda) uses some words in the Algonquin language to describe canoe-building; The film features some ambient indigenous drumming and singing in the background.

The Smithsonian Insitution founded the American Folklife Festival in 1967 as a celebration of living cultural heritage.  Each year's program includes a Native culture component. The Festival events, which take place for two weeks surrounding July 4th, are scattered around the country and take place in living history museums and communty centers. In 1976, the Bicentennial year, special attention was given to  diversity within the Native American Program: Tribes from the Northeast, Southeast, Southern Plains, Prairie, Northern Plains, Northwest Coast, Southwest, Plateau, Basin, Northern California, Arctic were featured.  --Jennifer Jenkins

1976 Festival of American Folklife 5 features on-screen interviews (interviewer unidentified) with three indigenous traditional craftsmen at the 1976 Festival of American Folklife Native American exhibits: Stanley Hill (Mohawk), William Comanda or Commanda (“Algonkin” or Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Quebec), and Wilmer “Duffy” Wilson (Tuscarora)

The audio quality of the footage is poor; the picture quality, transferred from video, is low contrast and “washed out.”

Stanley Hill (1921-2003) was a Mohawk wood- and bone-carver; Hill is interviewed at the beginning of 1976 Festival of American Folklife 5. He hailed from the Six Nations Reserve, Ohsweken, Ontario. Hill’s father was Tuscarora and his mother Mohawk. Hill received multiple awards for his carvings and sculptures, but what was important to Hill was the spiritual meaning and healing aspect of his work (Hill n. pag.; D’Alimonte n. pag.).

Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg (“Algonkin” or Algonquin) canoe-builder William Comanda (or Commanda) (1913-2011) was a well-respected Elder of his tribe. He was known as “Grandfather William Commanda,” and his “traditional” name was “Ojigkwanong”. One of Commanda’s obituaries included this passage:

Elder Commanda [was] a keeper of several Algonquin wampum belts and a keeper of the traditional prophecies and oral histories of his nation. He was steeped in his traditional teachings and traditional way of life, having worked as a guide, trapper, birch bark canoe maker and craftsman of international renown. He served as Chief of Kitigan Zibi for over nineteen years. Elder Commanda was a strong advocate for the rights of his people and First Nations and Indigenous peoples everywhere. He participated in events and ceremonies at the United Nations, with Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and organized national and international gatherings of Elders and world leaders”(“AFN and First Nations” n. pag.).

Commanda, in his later years, was the “guardian” of several “sacred wampum belts…including the wampum of the Seven Prophecies, which is considered as a founding document of the Algonquin Nation” (Nease, n. pag.).

David Gidmark, in his Birchbark Canoe: Life Among the Algonquin, writes  especially traditional canoe-building. Gidmark, a non-Native, writes in several passages of his encounters with William Commanda. Upon first seeing a birchbark canoe made by Commanda, Gidmark asks Commanda to show him how to make a bark canoe, and details Commanda’s response: “No,” [Commanda] said, his friendliness tempered with firmness. “I will never teach a white man how to build a birchbark canoe” (p. 15-16). It took Gidmark some time to build Commanda’s trust; Gidmark became more involved with the Maniwaki, Quebec indigenous community, and eventually Commanda allowed Gidmark to begin as a sort-of canoe-builder’s apprentice. When Gidmark was finally tested and built his first canoe the traditional way, Commanda – who was known for his sense of humor—reportedly commented on Gidmark’s canoe: “Well, at least it floats” (Peat 61-2).

Commanda was featured in a segment of the 2011 CBC documentary series entitled Eighth Fire: Canada, Aboriginal Peoples and the Way Forward (Clibbon, n. pag.).

According to A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture and Peoples, the word, “Algonquin” or “Algonkin” is likely derived from a Micmac word meaning, “at the place of spearing fish and eels from the bow of a canoe”. The original self-designation for the Algonquin peoples was “Anishinabeg,” which means “true men” (Pritzker 404).

Adney and Chapelle, in their 1983 text The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, reference several bands of “Algonkin” tribes in their summation of traditional Algonquin bark canoe-styles, including those tribes from regions of modern-day Quebec. Thus, the authors may specifically include the bark canoe-styles of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in their summation. The authors also briefly discuss the traditional and historical use of the birch bark canoes, claiming that the increase in bark canoe production among the Algonquins in the Seventeenth Century was caused by the French demand for more canoes for transportation within the fur trade. The authors hypothesize that the “old,” high-ended “Algonkin model” may have been the “tribal type from which the fur-trade canoe was developed” (113).

According to the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation’s “Member Community Page,” the present-day the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation Territory “is the largest Algonquin Nation in Canada, in both area and population” (n. pag.).

Wilmer "Duffy" (Ha-Da-Noh “Keeper of the Logs”) Wilson (1925-2002) was a Tuscarora stone-carver and sculptor; Wilson is interviewed at the end of 1976 Festival of American Folklife 5. Upon his death, Wilson was recognized as one of the leading Native American sculptors in North America (“Obituaries” n. pag.).


Link to the Program Book for 1976 Festival of American Folklife:

“1976 Festival of American Folklife/Smithsonian Institution, National Park Service.” Smithsonian Research Online. Smithsonian Institution Libraries, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.  http://si-pddr.si.edu/jspui/handle/10088/11053

General information on Algonquin (“Algonkin”) Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in Quebec :

“First Nation Details.” Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 2013. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.


McGregor, Stephen. Since Time Immemorial: Our Story. The Story of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg. Maniwaki, Quebec: Kitigan Zibi Education Council, 2004. Print.

“Member Community Page.” Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council, 2013. Web. 22 Jan. 2013. http://www.anishinabenation.ca/eng/comm_kitiganzibi_en.htm

Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture and Peoples. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

History of the post-European contact Beaver Trade in Canada, including involvement of Algonquin peoples:

Innis, Harold A. The Fur Trade in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Print.

Jennings, Francis. The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire: The Covenant Chain Confederation of Indian Tribes with English Colonies from Its Beginnings to the Lancaster Treaty of 1744. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. Print.

Algonquin canoe history, construction and designs:

Adney, Edwin Tappey, and Howard I. Chapelle. The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983. Print.

Online Algonquin language conversion:

Dictionary. OP Online, n.d. Web. 10 January 2013. http://www.thealgonquinway.ca/English/dictionary-e.php

General Information on Tuscarora Nation:

Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture and Peoples. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

General Information on Mohawk Tribe, New York State:

Eisenstadt, Peter R., and Laura-Eve Moss, eds. Encyclopedia of New York State, The. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2005. Print.

Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture and Peoples. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

On Stanley Hill:

D’Alimonte, Robert. “The Life of Stan Hill.” Amherst WoodWorks, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. http://www.amherstwoodworks.com/Carving_Out_A_Legend.php

Hil(l), Rick. “Carving Out a Legend: A Tribute to Stan Hill: Mohawk Bone Carver.” Amherst WoodWorks, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

Walrod, Dennis. Antlers: A Guide to Collecting, Scoring, Mounting, and Carving. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2005. Print.

On William Comanda (or Commanda):

“AFN and First Nations Mourn the Passing of Algonquin Elder ‘Grandfather’ William Commanda, an Inspirational Leader, Teacher and Activist.” CNW TELBEC, 2011. Web. 22 Jan. 2013. http://www.newswire.ca/fr/story/821201/afn-and-first-nations-mourn-the-passing-of-algonquin-elder-grandfather-william-commanda-an-inspirational-leader-teacher-and-activist

Clibbon, Jennifer. “Keeper of the wampum: William Commanda, Algonquin elder.” CBCNews. 3 Aug. 2011. Web. 22 Jan. 2013. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/08/03/f-william-commanda-algonquin-elder.html

Commanda, William. “A Vision for Victoria Island: Victoria Island Comprehensive March 2003 Report.” Angelfire.com. March 2003. Web. 22 Jan. 2013. http://www.angelfire.com/ns/circleofallnations/H9.html

Gidmark, David. Birchbark Canoe: Living Among the Algonquin. Willowdale, Ontario: Firefly, 1997. Print.

Nease, Kristy. “Algonquin spiritual leader dead at 97.” Postmedia News. National Post, 3 Aug. 2011. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.

Peat, F. David. Blackfoot Physics: A Journey Into The Native American Universe. York Beach, ME: Red Wheel, 2005. Print.

On Wilmer "Duffy" Wilson:

“Obituaries: Wilmer Wilson.” Rhoney Funeral Home Inc., 2002. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.

--Eric Maynard (Mohegan), 2013