The History of the Sugar Bush

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The History of the Sugar Bush

Native Harvest Maple Syrup is hand harvested by the people of White Earth.

Making maple syrup is an ancient tradition of our people. It was the native people who showed the colonists how to make maple sugar and maple syrup; one of the many skills that enabled the settlers to survive.

Each spring, during Moon of the Boiling Sap, known as Iskigamizige-giizis in the Ojibwe languge, Ojibwe families would return to the same stand of maple trees where they had established sugar bush camps. Some sugar camps have been in the same family for many generations.


The right time to start tapping maple trees is when the days are above freezing and the nights are still freezing. In the old days, the families had a lodge on the camp site and a storehouse that kept many of their supplies. They would often have a food cache they’d restock in the fall for the next spring. Upon arrival to the camp, the men would hunt and fish while women tapped the maple trees.

Before metal taps and modern containers were used, taps were carved from wood. Sap containers called biskitenaagan were made of birch bark. Many modern sugar camps now use metal taps and pails, milk jugs, or bags to collect maple sap.

Once the trees are tapped, the weather dictates the flow of the sap. The colder it is, the slower the flow of the sap. When it warms up, you must check the containers frequently.

Where does the sap come from in the tree? The sap is stored in the roots of the tree and flows upward toward the leaves when the weather is right. The sap that’s collected from the taps is poured into a big pot and boiled down over a fire.



Today’s pots are made of cast iron or other metals. The pot sits over a large fire that is usually kept burning for several days. It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. 

As the sap boils down, it should be constantly watched and stirred. If the boiling sap becomes frothy and starts to boil over, you can tap it down with cedar or balsam branches.

Maple syrup and maple sugar cakes are the tasty result of all the hard work that goes into sugar camp. But maple syrup season isn’t just work, it’s a time for the young generation to learn how to carry on the tradition and share it with the next. It’s a time for families and friends to gather and celebrate a new year. It’s a time for visiting sharing, and laughter around the fire.

When you purchase maple syrup from Native Harvest, you are supporting cultural preservation, community well-being, and our local Indigenous economy. Now THAT is sweet! Share in the tradition and click here to purchase Native Harvest’s maple products.



  • Native Harvest

    Thank you for your question Angela!
    1) Birchbark, though extremely flammable does not burn when it has liquid in it.
    2) We were expert potters. Clay was used to make large vats. Also hollowed out logs were used in the hot rock method. There were a number of techniques used, even the stomachs of large animals such as moose and buffalo can hold liquid to cook.

    I hope this helps! Miigwech!

  • Angela

    Can you please help us with aquestion we have come up with as we research maple sugaring and the ojibway. Can you tell me, how did the ojibway boil the sap down into syrup before there were metal kettles to do this? Some sources say they used birchbark containers, but I know that birchbark is extremely flamable and this could not have been the way it was done without the container burning up. Did they use stones to boil the sap? Did they use another type of container? did they put some kind of a protecting coat of something on the bottom of the container to impeed burning? Thanks! we are trying to learn about how sugaring was done pre contact!

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