Canoe paddle making workshop this weekend

As Ken Hoyt prepares for the Tlingit canoe paddle making workshop at the high school shop room Friday through Sunday, March 8-10, he explained how there are two different types, depending on its intended use.

"Real canoe paddles ... never have relief carving," he said. "They don't have inlays. They don't have anything ornate. They're utilitarian. People will sometimes be disappointed when they see old canoe paddles have a lot of geometric designs, straight lines, way different from the formlines and the really fancy crest designs we're used to seeing."

Canoe paddles are more focused on structural integrity, to be used as implements of transportation. "If you were to do relief carving in there, all of a sudden you're going to crack your paddle the first or second day out (in the water)," he said.

"With dance paddles that don't have to go in the water, we can go crazy," he said. "We can dig them out, and put copper, and abalone, and human hair, and seashells, and make them elaborate."

In addition to paddles that will be made for dances performed at Celebration, held during June in Juneau, some of the canoe paddles will be made for the tribal canoe journeys, drawing Natives from across the U.S. and Canada, paddling to Washington state.

"It started out with maybe 12 canoes in the first one, and now they're up over a hundred," Hoyt said. "The tribal journey in Washington is always July, and then ours is always May and early June, because we're going to Celebration."

A workshop in Wrangell in 2022 focused more on making dance paddles, Hoyt said. "And now here we are in 2024, we have both. We have a dance group that needs dance paddles. We have a canoe group that needs canoe paddles. We've got at least 24 planks up there. ... I'd like to dedicate individual paddles to all the Wrangell clans."

Sealaska is contributing red cedar planks and workshop leaders will include master carver Doug Chilton, president of the One People Canoe Society in Juneau. "Doug Chilton's a pretty prominent artist," Hoyt said. "He still has a store, but he's a big-time engraver. He does silver, gold, copper. ... He's been in this canoe movement for at least 20 years."

Hoyt anticipates between 20 to 30 people will attend the free workshop, with everyone working at their own comfort levels. "It's just a flurry," he said. "Sawdust in hair, impacting visibility, everybody in goggles and masks and ... hearing protection, gloves, and we just go. ... No one will be turned away on ability."

The workshop will run three days, likely starting later on Friday to allow for school activities, then at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. "We're not going to ding people for being late," he said.

Hoyt is the organizer and workshop host, coordinating with the school district, Sealaska, One People Canoe Society and SEARHC, and while he does woodworking himself, he doesn't consider himself at Chilton's level. "I'll be a grunt," he said with a smile.

Supplies are limited; to reserve a spot, email or use a smartphone to access the QR code in the workshop ad in the Sentinel. Those under 18 will need permission from their parent or guardian.


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