Why Arcs?

Traditionally, some Anishinaabe practiced agriculture: the famous "Three Sisters" of corn, beans, and squash, for example. But hunting and fishing were always central, and this meant that mobility was key. Material objects needed to be both light and strong. Bending wood into arcs is an excellent foundation for both. Of course, we know wood is light: It floats on water! But from where comes the strength of wooden arcs?

The "springiness" of a wooden arc (elasticity; zhopshkaa) not only adds strength but also flexibility. Stone for example is harder than wood, but it can be so brittle that it breaks. Elasticity allows the arc to bend and then return to its original shape. Changing stress does not hurt it!

Finally, the arc also provides tension: when you shoot an arrow, the arc of the bow releases the energy you stored in it. When you make snowshoes, the tension of the arc holds the webbing in place. The wiigwaam uses tension across two arcs to create its shape. Designer R. Buckminster Fuller called such things "tensegrity" structures, because the tension maintains the integrity of the shape.

Showing the springiness of sapplings.

Consider two pieces of wood lashed together to form a V. No matter how firm the lashing, it will be easy to push the two ends together if you apply force. Now consider two ends of a sapling bent in an arc: when you try to make the ends meet, the arc fights back! This is true not just for the ends; an arc will distribute the load along its entire length, no matter where you apply force.