Celebration 2014 begins Wednesday in the capital city. Seven thousand people are expected to attend the biennial gathering of Southeast Alaska Natives from all over the state, the Lower 48 and Canada.
While most fly or take the state ferry to Juneau, in recent years small groups have come by traditional canoe, including a group from Haines, who left the North Lynn Canal community last week.
Helmsman Wayne Price, gave the order to leave shortly after 4 a.m. so the group could start their journey with the outgoing tide.
“We’re ready? Can I get a Hoohah? Hoohah. Let’s go to Juneau.”
The group is the North Tide Canoe Kwaan and they are paddling a dugout canoe to the Celebration festivities set to begin this week in Juneau. They are accompanied by two support boats. By Sunday night they had reached Admiralty Island where they will camp an extra day before meeting up with other canoe groups from across Southeast.
But this journey took more than just a few long days of paddling in a dugout canoe. This group has been preparing for months.
Price, a master carver, has had an attachment to the western red cedar canoe for about 10 years, when the log was first shipped to Haines for a project. That project didn’t materialize and the log languished. But last year Price took the log back up to use as a project with the Chilkoot Indian Association’s tribal youth program.
Since then, Price and his students have worked on the log, carving, adzing and fashioning it into a 28-foot dugout. They steamed the canoe to widen it, fiberglassed and painted it. For the past several weeks the group has practicing paddling around Port Chilkoot in Haines. They took water safety and rescue courses including training with the Coast Guard.
Price also taught paddle carving classes throughout the winter. Price required anyone who wanted to participate in the canoe journey to carve their own paddle to use on the trip. For him, delving into cultural activities is an avenue to make healthy lifestyle choices, and especially a choice away from drugs and alcohol.
“I thinks a worthy cause to support healthy lifestyle living and give young people, an old, something to do. Something that was done and keeping something that’s part of history alive.”
While the group officially organized through the tribe’s youth program, those on the journey to Celebration range age from 4 to 67. The eldest would be Bosch Hotch who got involved with the project from prompting from his grandkids.
“I didn’t really get into it until the grandkids said ‘Come on, come see what we’re doing,’ ” Hotch says. “I walked in there and Wayne gave me a plank and I started carving and haven’t quit since.”
With Bosch on the trip there were three generations of his family making the journey.
And for Price, this wasn’t his first canoe journey. He’s done similar projects with First Nations youth in Canada. And it’s not his first dugout canoe either – he’s done at least 10. But paddling a dugout from Haines to Juneau has been a longtime dream.
“We’re doing an adventure that hasn’t been done in a very long time, in a traditional dugout as well. So there’s a bi g accomplishment in that. I just want to keep everyone fed and healthy and safe and make sure their journey is a good one as well, too.”