One People Canoe Society holds paddle workshop
Brian O'Connor/ Wrangell Sentinel
Bulmaro Ramirez (left) and Mike Chilton examine the handle of a paddle during a workshop put on by the One People Canoe Society and the SEARHC traditional foods program. The workshop was held Saturday and Sunday ahead of a planned canoe trip from Wrangell to Juneau for Celebration, June's bi-annual Tlingit cultural festival.
The air was thick with sawdust and the sound of electric motors this weekend at Wrangell High School.
Visiting representatives from the One People Canoe Society were in town to hold a paddle-making workshop in preparation for the biannual Celebration, a festival of Tlingit culture in Juneau. While decorative paddles are sometimes a feature of Alaskan Native culture, the workshop this weekend was a little more practically oriented, said Brian Chilton, an artist by trade who oversaw the workshop alongside his nephew, Mike Chilton. SEARHC's traditional food program also sponsored the workshop.
He estimated they were going to make about 21 paddles from red cedar boards donated by SEALASKA Corporation's Haa Aani program.
Yellow cedar "is much denser, so it's actually more sturdy, but it's ten times heavier," he said.
The workshop was targeted at helping woodworkers of all talents, Chilton said.
"Some (attendees) have none," he said. "We just guide everybody, and no one person does one paddle."
In practice the workshop resembles an assembly line, with paddle templates reshaped and gradually worked down to a final product.
While the paddles – and the Celebration trip they will be used for – are an integral part of native culture in Southeast, the workshop isn't exclusively intended for Native participants, Chilton said.
"It's not just the native preference thing," he said.
He used the name of the society – One People as an example.
"I have adopted brothers," he said. "One's Irish and one's German. I have some friends that were half Tlingit and half Haida. We said 'We'll call it one people 'cause we're all one people.'"
In total, the Society will visit or hold workshops in Juneau for nine Southeast communities, Chilton said. They have expanded from being primarily a Juneau-based group to hosting groups from all over, he said.
"We'll basically meet up at Square Cove," he said.
Chilton's family roots are in Angoon. His group will tow the canoes to Angoon, spend a single night in Angoon, and then canoe to Juneau.
A few of the participants were involved with side projects, like Chicken Churchill, who was working Saturday on a more decorative paddle with her family's eagle design.
"I started this last year and never finished it," she said.
The previous workshop was held for the re-dedication of the Shakes House.
Churchill was participating in part to help relatives in the Johnson-O'Malley dance group get to Celebration.
The event combines aspects of celebrating Tlingit culture with community service, Churchill said.
"It's a little bit of both," she said.
While some of the more virile members of the local native community will take canoes to Celebration, Churchill was a little more reasonable.
"I'm a grandma," she said. "I'm going to take the ferry."
Tom Gillen was working the handle of a paddle template from a square shape to a round one, before it went to a power sander.
Gillen also attended the previous year's workshop and a drum workshop held the previous weekend, all part of the gradual build up to Celebration.
"It's a lot of fun, but a lot of work," he said.