Maple syrup harvesting is the primary activity of the springtime. It is considered one of the sacred foods to the Ojibwe people. The sap is considered medicine and if someone offers you maple syrup it’s kind of a big deal.
How the Ojibwe people got maple syrup tells a story of how the Ojibwe people were starving & the maple tree saw this and took pity on them. This story is representative of how in our culture you have to work hard for what you get, especially food.
“A long time ago, winter had ended, or was about to end, and there was no more food left. People were hungry and this man was walking around foraging for food. An ininaatig (Maple Tree, Man Tree) saw him and felt bad for this poor human who could not sustain himself or his people. He took pity on him and gave part of himself to the man.
He said, “Listen Anishinaabe (Original People, another name for Ojibwe), I pity you. What I think you should do is cut off one of my branches and something will come out that has a great caloric density that will last you a very long time. You can cut it out and harvest it and give it to your people. All trees that look like me will do this.”
When the man cut off the branch, a thick brown sweet liquid fell out and it was maple syrup. It was really good, sweet, and relatively easy to get because all you had to do was cut a branch off.
A lot of Ojibwe people began laying under the trees and cutting branches off with their mouth open to eat the syrup. They were becoming idle and plump, so the trickster, Nanaboozhoo, came along and asked them why they weren’t doing their jobs and fulfilling their jobs instead of eating syrup. The people became too satisfied to even respond to Nanaboozhoo, so he went to the river and got a pail of water and poured it into the maple tree. It diluted the maple syrup and what came out of the tree was sap.
The Anishinaabe were shocked and then Nanaboozhoo said, “if you want syrup you have to work for it. you have to tap the trees and boil it. You need 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.” This is how the Ojibwe people got maple syrup and we still do it today.
According to one source1, the Ojibwe people got maple syrup from a maple tree that took pity on them when they were starving and told them to cut one of its branches and enjoy the sweet syrup that came out. However, they became idle and stopped hunting and gathering other food, so the trickster Nanaboozhoo diluted the syrup with water and made it into sap, which required a lot of boiling to make syrup. He said they had to work for it if they wanted to enjoy it.
Another source2 says that maple sugar was a traditional staple in the Ojibwe diet and culture, and that they harvested it every spring by drilling holes into sugar maple trees and collecting the sap in birch bark containers. They then boiled the sap in cast iron kettles until it became granulated sugar, which they used as a primary seasoning in their food.
Both sources agree that maple sugaring was an important part of the Ojibwe people’s life and that they used different methods and technologies to produce it over time.