A red Lake Recollection
In the old days, no family neglected to put in its supply of maple sugar. When the sap began to rise, groups of families moved into maple groves—unless their winter camp was located in one, which was not unusual.
The time for tapping trees varied with the years and the localities; sap flow might be affected by an early spring, by nearness to Lake Superior, or by latitude. Informants were certain that at the present time tapping is never begun before mid to late March, with the season ending by the end of April.
In general, maple groves were not claimed by any particular family, but it was well understood that no one tapped trees that were customarily tapped each season by the same family. Should a family neglect to tap its trees for a season, another family might then do so the following season, making certain, however, that the first family did not intend to do so. Often, too, a family, knowing that it was unable to tap trees because of sickness or taboos related to death, invited another to tap its trees. Seasonal homes were erected in sugar bushes, each family usually having three—one for a family dwelling, one for making sugar (this one might be shared), and one for storage of utensils. Frameworks were permanent and at times coverings also.
Once sap began to flow, maple trees were tapped; sap was collected, boiled, evaporated, and refined. In boiling the sap, it was said that the sap must be closely watched. Just as soon as it begins to make “eyes”, it is taken off the fire and worked with a small paddle that looks like a canoe paddle. Sometimes the children would wait for this stage in the boiling, beg for a little sap on a piece of birchbark, drop it into the snow and let it turn to gum. It was also customary to place a little pinch of tobacco in the fire before eating the first maple sugar. After all families in a group had completed the first boiling of the sap, a feast was held in which all participated; maple sugar formed the chief food.
from Hilger, M. Inez (Mary Inez). 1951. “Chippewa Child Life And Its Cultural Background.” Bulletin. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities