Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
December 11, 1999

Float Copper
By Ondamitag

Come on Onda, can copper really float? Or is it a freak of nature thing? Or is it the gift of the Water Spirits?

Well anything is possible when it comes to Lake Superior. The Lake Superior basin is a mineral rich area and the first mineral 'mined' was copper. There are two areas of the basin where the copper forms veins that were (they are mined out today) visible at the surface. The Keweenaw Peninsula and Isle Royale are where the first copper was mined.

The history of Lake Superior copper is one that extends up and down the Americas. Copper from the Keweenaw has been found in Inca burials. It has been found in the form of spearheads, in the most northern reaches, of Turtle Island. It has been found all over the Western Hemisphere. It was a rare and major trade item going back into time, as far as one can, in this land.

Float Copper is a very special form of this native copper. I first learned of this form as a child when I pick some up on the shore. It was about a half an inch wide and three inches long. A neighbor of mine told me it was float copper, how it was formed, and why I found it where I did. Small pieces of float copper are also known as Occurence Copper. I set it aside, and walked through another 35 years of life, before I learned the rest of the story, and came to really appreciate how destiny let me pick such things up, as a child.

It restarted with a drawing of some copper armbands. They were drawings of the famous armbands of Pontiac. The armbands each had a Thunderbird filigreed out of them. Under the drawing was printed 'Made of Keweenaw Float Copper.' I smiled and remembered what 'ol Les' had told me.

The best veins of native copper on the Keweenaw Peninsula are under the waters of Lake Superior. Some of these veins are in the rock & boulder fields of the shorelines. One only has to walk the same shore of Lake Superior a few times to realize that the rocks are constantly moving. The waves of this lake are as amazing as the rocks they move around. The wave action is the key to float copper. Copper is a very malleable material. As the rocks hit the veins of native copper underwater, they pound out plates. After some time, the rocks will break off the plates, break them up into pieces and even move some up to the shore. As far as I have been able to find, the Keweenaw is the only place on this planet where this occurs.

A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting a friend and he started talking about Float Copper and the Anishinabe. He ended up taking me to a place where a person had some amazing pieces of Keweenaw Float Copper. I ended up with a piece. On the way home, I stopped by an to see an Anishinabe friend of mine and gave it to him

With a new blanket and tobacco in hand, I told him what I knew of how it came into being. Jerry told me that it was the gift of the Great Water Spirits of Lake Superior.

I smiled and told him that made sense to me. I already knew that the waters have spirits. I have walked Lake Superior shores too many times looking for pretty rocks, and dealing with the wind and the waves along the way.

I saw the joy in Jerry's eyes when I gave him the copper. I know that this is something that I will be tied to the rest of my life. That happens every so often as we learn about things and discover how it they are already woven into our lives.

Now, all I have to do is figure out how to talk Dan out of the most beautiful piece of Keweenaw Float Copper I have ever seen. It is truly a piece of Natural Modern Art. It is on Dan's shop wall and is 18 inches wide and 2 and a half feet long. It has hundred of smaller plates pounded out of the large one. I just stood there and looked at it for more time than I would care to admit.

I do not want this example for myself. When I saw it I knew it belonged in Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College's Pipe Mustache Auditorium. Pipe was a member of the Man-Fish Clan and this is definitely a Man-Fish thing.

All around us are things as unique as Float Copper. So few of us notice these things because we are looking at what we think of things, rather than really looking at things.

Look around, all the mystery and all the answers are at our feet. We each are gifted with a unique way of looking at those things.

"Be Unique."

Floating Copper


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