Dugout canoe replica. (Photo by Nobu Koch)

Dugout canoe replica. (Photo by Nobu Koch)

Sitka tribe donates canoe replica to Sealaska Heritage Institute

Sitka’s tribal government has donated to Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) a small replica of a full-size dugout canoe carved through a project sponsored by SHI, the National Park Service, Alaska State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and a private foundation in 2016.

The replica, which was made by Tsimshian artist Mark Sixbey of Sitka, is a near copy of the 27-foot traditional dugout carved in Sitka by mentor Steve Brown and his apprentices, artists T.J. Young, Tommy Joseph and Jerrod and Nicholas Galanin. Brown, who has studied traditional dugouts for years, identified it as a northern-style ceremonial canoe.

SHI spearheaded the project with Sitka National Historical Park in 2016 to preserve the ancient but endangered knowledge of making the traditional watercraft. Sitka Tribe of Alaska, the Sitka School District, and Sitka National Historical Park developed lesson units about dugout canoes for school students and brought nearly 500 students to the carving site. The finished canoe was officially launched at a dedication ceremony in October 2017.

SHI gifted the full-size dugout to Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and the tribe donated the replica as an expression of gratitude to SHI and Sealaska, which donated the log.

The mentor-apprentice team applied a base coat of paint and the designs were added later by Sixbey. Sitka Elders named the canoe Dachxánx’I Yán Yaagú (Tlingit for Grandchildren’s Canoe) and directed Sixbey to include one Raven, one Eagle and children’s handprints around the vessel.

The replica was added to SHI’s ethnographic collection and will be made available to artists for study.

“The replica is reminiscent of model canoes that were left by the old masters and are studied by carvers today. Only a handful of those survived,” said SHI President Rosita Worl. “We are grateful to have the replica in our collection for study and also as a reminder of the project, which was hugely successful in transferring this ancient knowledge to some of our young carvers.”

Finely crafted dugout canoes have long been an essential component of Southeast Alaska Native culture. Until the modern era, dugout canoes served as the primary transportation method for trading, seasonal travel, hunting, fishing and gathering.

The institute began pursuing the project in earnest after artists who participated in SHI’s first Native Artist Gathering in 2015 ranked dugout canoe carving as one of the most endangered Northwest Coast art practices. SHI secured funding to launch the mentor-apprentice canoe project, to sponsor workshops on how to make model dugouts, and to develop a book on traditional canoes. The book, written by Brown, is scheduled for release in 2019. SHI also made 3-D scans of the canoe so it can be replicated in the future in materials such as fiber glass or carbon fiber.

The project was funded through a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service and in part by a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. It was supported by Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the Sitka School District.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research and advocacy that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

More in Neighbors

A change in season is marked by tree leaves turning color at Evergreen Cemetery in late September of 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Gimme a Smile: P.S. Autumn is here.

Ready or not, here it comes. The days are getting shorter, new… Continue reading

A double rainbow appears in Juneau last Friday. (Photo by Ally Karpel)
Living and Growing: Embracing Tohu V’vohu — Creation Amidst Chaos

Over the course of the past year, during which I have served… Continue reading

Birch and aspen glow orange in September in the Chena River State Recreation Area east of Fairbanks. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: The varying colors of fall equinox

We are at fall equinox, a day of great equality: All the… Continue reading

A male pink salmon attacks another male with a full-body bite, driving the victim to the bottom of the stream.(Photo by Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Eagle Beach strawberries and salmon

A walk at Eagle Beach Rec Area often yields something to think… Continue reading

Adam Bauer of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Bahá’ís of Juneau.
Living and Growing: Rúhíyyih Khánum, Hand of the Cause of God

Living in Juneau I would like to take a moment to acknowledge… Continue reading

A calm porcupine eating lunch and not displaying its quills. (Photo by Jos Bakker)
On the Trails: Prickly critters here and afar

Prickles, thorns, and spines of some sort are a common type of… Continue reading

The Rev. Karen Perkins.
Living and Growing: Coping with anger, shock and despair after a loss

The last several Living and Growing columns have included reflections about death,… Continue reading

A female humpback whale Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve biologists know as #219 breaches in the waters near the park. When a whale breaches, it often leaves behind flakes of skin on the surface of the ocean. Scientists can collect sloughed skin and send it to a laboratory to learn about the genetics or diet of the whale. (National Park Service photo by Christine Gabriele, taken under the authority of scientific research permit #21059 issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service)
Alaska Science Forum: The welcome return of an old friend to Icy Strait

There was a time when Christine Gabriele wondered if she’d ever see… Continue reading

Sandhill cranes fly over the Mendenhall wetlands. (Photo by Gina Vose)
On the Trails: An uncommon encounter with Sandhill cranes

One sunny day near the end of August, a friend and I… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Living and Growing: Giving space for grief is healthy and grounded

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter… Continue reading

A rainbow spans North Douglas on Aug. 16. (Photo by Kelsey Riederer)
Wild Shots

To showcase our readers’ work to the widest possible audience, Wild Shots… Continue reading

The little blue stars of felwort flowers appear late in the season. (Photo by David Bergstrom)
On the trails: Out and about, here and there

On a foggy morning toward the middle of August, a friend and… Continue reading