Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Large ceremonial canoe gets first launch


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

On Tuesday morning, members of the Shtax'heen Canoe Family group paddle around in the newly-built "Shtax'heen Yaakw," a 30-foot canoe built after a traditional style.

It was a festive holiday weekend for Wrangell, but the local Tlingit community had particular reason to celebrate as they dedicated a new canoe Saturday inside the Wrangell Cooperative Association's recently completed carving facility.

The 30-foot vessel seats up to nine crew members and is constructed of fiberglass and wood framing with a red cedar inlay. It was constructed over the summer at the old carving shed, near the causeway entrance to Chief Shakes Island.

"Shane Gillen is the one who built the whole thing," said Ken Hoyt, one of the project's supporters.

He explained that over the past two years Gillen had come up with the design and since this summer did much of the framing and fiberglass work. A $3,000 grant by Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, material aid and services provided by Wrangell Cooperative Association and White Construction all went toward making the canoe a reality.

"We fundraised a lot, too," said Hoyt.

The construction of the canoe has the advantages of being larger, sturdier and considerably cheaper than a traditional wooden dugout, meaning it can be used for extended journeys and annual festivals.

"Now we have a reason to dance," said Marge Byrd at the canoe's dedication. The two-hour ceremony was intended to elevate the object's value for the community, with the singing of songs, sharing of stories, and distribution of seven copper pieces made by Richard Oliver for each of the seven Wrangell clans. Ten blankets were also given out, representative of the ten original clans.

At the ceremony's climax, the canoe was formally christened. "We named it after the river," said Hoyt. "It doesn't belong to one clan, it belongs to everybody."

Together they chose the name "Shtax'heen Yaakw" – Tlingit for "Stikine River Canoe" – and the Shtax'heen Canoe Family group will cooperatively maintain the vessel, which is kept at the WCA shed near the causeway to Chief Shakes Island. Hoyt explained the group is a local chapter of the One Canoe Society.

"This is a tremendous gift to the community," John Martin said of the canoe. "This is going to put people in the water."

A group of seven took the canoe out for its first little trip on Monday. After the test run, Martin remarked the canoe traveled smoothly in the water. "That's a traveling boat," he said. In his many years of canoeing, Martin said this was the largest vessel he had been in. "I'd love to see three of them."

Gillen felt the effort had been worth it. "It goes really smoothly," he said. But he added the real test of its mettle will come when the canoe gets taken out into open water.


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