Lac Du Flambeau Canoe-Builder Valliere Earns Top National Arts Honor

Jul 7, 2020

Wayne Valliere Sr. working on a birchbark canoe.
Credit Tim Frandy

A traditional birchbark canoe builder from Lac du Flambeau is now one of the nation’s top honorees in folk and traditional arts.

Wayne Valliere Sr. was selected as a 2020 National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

“I was shocked. I was literally shocked. I understand what the award is,” Valliere said. “People like B.B. King and a lot of famous people that did really great things in the art world for the betterment of mankind [have been honored]. Just to have my name in the pool of people like that is an honor. It’s beyond belief.”

Valliere is one of just a handful of master birchbark canoe builders remaining in the Midwest.

“The art forms that I’m known for, they don’t belong to me. The knowledge belongs to my people,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why I won the award, I guess, is because I’ve been sharing this canoe culture in communities throughout the Midwest.”

Since 1982, Heritage Fellowships have been won by icons like King, the legendary bluesman.

“It is intended as the highest honor in the folk and traditional arts bestowed by the United States Government,” said Cliff Murphy, the Director of Folk and Traditional Arts at the NEA>

Murphy pointed out Valliere seeks to teach canoe-building while teaching other traditional skills and ways of life.

“He brings young people into the process to learn how to make canoes. In the process, they’re learning about language. In the process, they’re learning about fishing, harvesting of wild rice, all of these things that are so important to the lifeways and identity and sacred practices of this community,” Murphy said.

Valliere said he’s currently working on another canoe now with an apprentice who will soon become a master canoe builder himself.

Oneida Nation tribal member Karen Ann Hoffman of Stevens Point, another 2020 honoree, who practices Iroquois Raised Beadwork.
Credit Wisconsin Public Radio

“It’s my life work,” Valliere said. “If I can teach one person to carry this craft forward, then I know that it will live for at least one more generation.”

The lifetime honor awards include a $25,000 prize.

Iroquois Raised Beadworker Karen Ann Hoffman of Stevens Point, an Oneida Nation tribal member, is one of the other eight honorees this year.

They include soul singers, West African dancers, and fiddlers from around the country.