Two traditional Tlingit canoes powered by local students traversed 17.64 miles between Statter Harbor and Douglas Harbor on Friday, June 25, 2021. (Courtesy Photo/Chuck Seaca, Alaska Humanities Forum)

Paddling the channel

Local students complete 17-mile journey

Juneauites peering out into the Gastineau Channel Friday were treated to a rare sight — two traditional Tlingit canoes snaking through the water.

The canoes were powered by local students who completed a 17.64-mile trip over almost seven hours on Friday. The group left Don D. Statter Harbor and arrived at Douglas Harbor with just two quick stops along the way.

“We’ve been training for the last few weeks,” said Kyle Worl, who led the expedition.

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Worl, who also serves as the Native Youth Olympics coach, said the group has been training in Auke Lake to prepare for the all-day trip.

The journey was part of a summer school class that combines traditional games with physical education as part of the Juneau School District’s summer schedule. The course is a partnership between the school district, Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, the Douglas Indian Association and the Alaska Humanities Forum, Worl said.

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Battling the elements

Friday’s weather didn’t lend itself to an easy journey.

“It was choppy at first,” Worl said, adding that the group endured rain all day along with rough waters. “It’s part of the experience. It builds strength.”

Students on the journey reported a sense of accomplishment as they celebrated Friday afternoon after completing the trip.

“This was really good. Lots of fun,” said Jordan Bennet, who will enter tenth grade at Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé this autumn. She said the rowers sang traditional Lingít songs to pass the time on the water.

Fellow rower Kyle Kinnville, a rising senior at Thunder Mountain High School, said that he enjoyed the day.

Kinnville said the two canoes started to race as they rounded the final stretch into Douglas Harbor.

“The racing was hard. That’s a lot of pulling, he said as he enjoyed pier-side pizza Friday afternoon. “But, I wouldn’t mind going back out.”

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at or 907-308-4891.

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