Two canoes returned home to Haines this week, after spending some time in Hoonah, where Master Carver Wayne Price assisted in the Huna Tlingit homecoming to Glacier Bay.
A team of volunteers sing as they bring two canoes off of the LeConte (la-con-TEE) Ferry and onto shore in Haines.
“Our ships are home!” yells Price, welcoming his boats to shore.
The two canoes rode alongside vehicles on the ferry’s car deck. One is Price’s 28-foot Jibba dugout. The other, a strip canoe. Both are painted with the same red and black design.
Price drove to the ferry terminal to pick up the boats on their return trip from Hoonah, where he and a team of volunteers made two 40-foot spruce dugouts earlier this year. The two canoes coming back to Haines were ones made previously. The ones carved for Hoonah remain there.
“We went and worked 12 hours a day or 14 hours a day, seven days a week for nine months straight,” says Price.
Price was contracted to build the larger canoes for Hoonah.
“So that they could have an epic journey to return to their ancestral homelands in Glacier Bay, Bartlett Cove, where at one point they were pushed out and they left on dugouts by the glacier,” says Price. “The ice pushed them out.”
Last month, the two 40-foot boats made the journey to Glacier Bay for the Huna Tribal House dedication, paddled by the Huna Tlingit. The Hoonah Indian Association and the National Parks Service worked together to facilitate the homecoming. Price joined them for the 35-mile journey in his 28-foot dugout.
“This is the ancestral homeland of the Huna Kawoo,” says Price. “And they’ve wanted to return for a long time but were denied that return when it was turned into a park.”
Arriving at the ferry terminal in Haines, a group of people are waiting to help transfer the boats from the ferry to a trailer, to be brought back to Price’s home.
Zack James and James Hart worked with price to carve the dugouts in Hoonah. Now they’re lending a hand to bring these canoes back home.
They’re not boys anymore, they’re men,” says Price. “They stood by my side through thick and thin in Hoonah.”
Price’s son Stephen also helped carve the dugouts.
James says through this experience he’s gained a greater respect for how skilled the Tlingit ancestors were at their craft.
“It’s like a 40-foot long sculpture, perfectly symmetrical on both sides, end to end,” says James. “And the ancestors were able to do that with just sticks, maybe a piece of charcoal and string. They were able to make almost an immaculate ship.”
The Hoonah community offered help during the carving process, and Hart says everyone benefited from the work.
“As we were there we were able to see the change that we brought to Hoonah and the change that Hoonah brought out in us. We’re all growing together and by the time we left it seemed like there was a fire underneath them of cultural awareness and everyone really stepping up and being involved,” says Hart.
They do use power tools for part of the process now, but Price says at some point you have to put them down and do the work by hand.
“It takes a lot of dedication, a lot of chopping and chipping. A lot of chips. Day after day, chopping and chipping,” says Price.
The returning canoes will be used by North Tide Canoe Kwann in Haines. Price is the team captain. He says the group participates in tribal journeys to promote healthy lifestyle. He says all of the vessels are healing canoes, made to deal with issues of addiction and abuse. The idea came to Price in a sweat lodge, when he was going through his own recovery thirteen years ago.
“The Creator told me that as I carve the project that’s designated as a healing canoe, then each chip that comes off the dugout represents a life we’ve lost to alcohol and drugs in Indian country and abroad,” says Price.
For Price, being a part of the homecoming in Hoonah was a special experience.
“As a boat builder, to be able to see three of my ships on the water all at the same time full of all those happy places, you have to be there to witness that, to see that, and it’s a very amazing day,” says Price.
Still, carrying two of his boats back to shore in Haines with his team of loyal volunteers was significant in itself.