Working on Yuxwch’ee Yakw, the Spruce Canoe. Source: Sealaska Picasa page.
Most people are familiar with the use of red cedar to make dugout canoes on the Northwest Coast. It is not as commonly known that Sitka spruce was also used for this purpose, especially on the northernmost coast where red cedar did not thrive or was absent completely.
Via the Sealaska Heritage Institute Special Collections blog, I just found a nice, extensive photo set from 1987 of the carving of a spruce canoe near Hoonah, a Tlingit village in Southeast Alaska. The introduction to the photo set reads:
As part of the bicentennial of the Constitution celebration of 1987, the National Park Service and the Sealaska Heritage Foundation (now Sealaska Heritage Institute) sponsored the carving of a Tlingit canoe using traditional tools and methods at Bartlett Cove, which is near Hoonah, Alaska. The canoe, called Yuxwch’ee Yakw in Tlingit, means Sea Otter Canoe, which was the indigenous canoe of Hoonah and was photographed by the Harriman Expedition in Glacier Bay in 1899. The canoe was constructed at Bartlett Cover in August 1987. George Dalton, Sr, born in Hoonah in 1879, and other elders with personal knowledge of canoe making traditions served as cultural advisors to the project. Lead carvers Nathan Jackson, Steve Brown, Richard Dalton, and Mick Beasley carved the canoe using a Sitka Spruce log using traditional tools, such as the xot’ah or Tlingit adze.
Posted in alaska, anthropology, First Nations, Northwest Coast, Technology
Tagged alaska, canoes, carving, cedar, southeast alaska, spruce, tlingit
Roughly dressed block of cedar in preparation for carving. Source: flickr.com
The Stillaguamish Tribe live along the Stillaguamish River basin (map) of Northwestern Washington State. They are a tribe which missed out on any reservation land in the 1850s and have struggled somewhat at times to maintain cultural identity as a diaspora. Regaining Federal Status in 1976 was important to the tribe of about 200 members, as was 2009’s first “First Salmon” ceremonies in a generation.
An interesting and encouraging development seems to be the recent carving of the first Stillaguamish river canoe in a century. While the larger dugout canoes (still being carved) of the outer coast nations, such as the Haida and Nuu-chah-nulth, are better known emblems of the Northwest Coast as a whole, these river canoes were equally important to the inland waterway and riverine nations of the Fraser Valley and Puget Sound.
According to an informative and well-written article in the Everett HeraldNet, the story starts with an interesting origin of the cedar log itself.
Fallen pole at Gitsegulka. Source: flickr.com user CanadaGood.
Someone posting under the username “CanadaGood” at flickr.com has put up an impressive array of over 100 photos of “totem poles”. What I like about this set is that most of these are not the iconic ones from coffee table books or museums but rather are still standing (or lying) in communities, mostly along the Skeena River. They aren’t the most technically accomplished photos or anything but they are undeniably atmospheric and they document the process of renewal and decay of poles which was an important part of the carving complex. Each pole is the material instance of the right to carve and display a set of crests or images, often as a memorial to a dead person of high status, and therefore the “thing” must be set against the intangible, non-material property of rights and titles which it represents. Proper treatment of the pole might therefore well include letting it return to the earth, replaced by a fresher copy. I like the matter of fact way this one is set up on stumps and this rotting masterpiece at Gitanyow. This figure is unusual for being “sculpture in the round”. Kudos to CanadaGood for putting pictures of these less commonly seen poles on flickr, in high resolution, and under a Creative Commons licence to boot.
Tops of standing poles at Gitsegulka. Source: flickr user CanadaGood.
Posted in anthropology, First Nations, history, pics
Tagged anthropology, art, carving, Gitsegulka, Gitxsan, poles, Skeena River, totem poles