Canoe blessed, will lead entry into Wrangell
Ken Neish Hoyt leads a group of Wrangell’s Native community in blessing a canoe that will be used to lead a flotilla of other canoeists from Southeast Alaska arriving for rededication.
The Shtax’ Heen Kwaan canoe group held a blessing ceremony last weekend for a canoe that will lead the dozens of participants from the One People Canoe Society into Wrangell during the Shakes Island rededication on May 2.
The OPCS paddlers began their voyage to Shakes Island on Wednesday, April 24 from a number of communities throughout Southeast, with canoes coming from Yakutat, Juneau, Kake, Petersburg, Sitka, Prince of Wales, Hydaburg and Klawock.
Nearly 50 members of the community were on hand for the April 20 event at Shakes Island.
Wrangell Cooperative Association board member and traditional foods expert Ken Hoyt said the blessing was for the community, but also held a religious importance for his people.
“This canoe is about the community,” Hoyt said. “This was our maiden voyage and christening and open house for the people to see this canoe. It’s about making a connection to our People and putting their love and spirit into it, and after we do that, it will come back and will keep the Native spirit going.”
According to Hoyt, the paddling will culminate with a meeting of the communities on Vank Island on Wednesday, May 1. The next morning, the canoe blessed in last weekend’s ceremony will lead the assembled flotilla of canoes into the waters of Wrangell.
“It’ll be a short trip that will be one night and two days long,” Hoyt said. “We’re going to go out and welcome them and then lead them in on their journey. It’ll be very important to meet up with them, especially the Juneau canoeists because they will have been paddling for between eight or nine days.”
Hoyt, whose Tlingit name is “Neish,” also added that the design of traditional Southeast canoes was one way European invaders to the region were able to modify their previously oddly shaped boats for use in fishing and navigation in the oceans of the world.
“As I understand it, the European canoes and ships were round bottomed at the time of contact and were less than maneuverable and bobbed around in the water,” he said. “After they arrived in our land and saw this straight cut-water at the front of the canoes, and where ours were not rounded, they took that back and made that design standard issue for all their ships and smaller boats.”
Image of the route map
Kayla Rooney, whose Tlingit name is “Sawaat,” is descended from the Raven clan and has been a major player in the revitalization of canoes in Wrangell – and has been a part of the team that came together late last year to begin making traditional paddles for use in the rededication trip, as well as using the upcoming ceremony as her final Wrangell High School class project.
“I traveled this summer to Kake and met with different canoe groups where we collaborated on paddling into Juneau for 2012’s Celebration,” Rooney said. “I’m also using the rededication of the Shakes House as my senior project and there is a chance I might be traveling to Vank Island on May 1st, but I’m not sure yet.”
The canoe was donated by Ketchikan Indian Corporation and delivered free of charge to Wrangell by Alaska Marine Lines.