Back in 2011, just after my team of seven paddlers and I had completed our second Yukon 1000 mile canoe race in a woodstrip voyageur canoe, we all took a side trip to Haynes AK after the race. While touring the village at the old site of Fort Seward housing area circle in town, we noticed some interesting activity on the porch of one of the large old homes, lots of axes and adzes chipping at a very large log. So, we stopped to investigate where we met Tlingit native master carver Wayne Price (his Anglicized name) overseeing a group of young people in process of creating a traditional dugout canoe. Initially Wayne seemed a little standoffish as he thought we were just another group of snoopy tourists who just got off a tour boat. But after we told him we had just raced 1000 miles on the Yukon River, he opened up to us and happily explained the process of what he was doing with the teenage kids.
Wayne was involved in what he does... creating a safe activity for who might otherwise become troubled native youth without purpose hooked on alcohol and drugs. Cool. He showed us how the old hand tools are used, the already completed artistic paddles ( the "boat motors" as he called them), and described the rest of the process that involved boiling water and hot rocks to finish shaping the canoe when it was hollowed out and nearly complete. He also told us about a camp work site they had on an island on the Yukon at the south end of Lake Laberge north of Whitehorse, that we silently pass by during the races.
Fast forward to two Yukon River Quest races later that we were getting ready for in 2017. In Whitehorse we toured the new "Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre", a Tlingit First Nation focused museum in Whitehorse, where we saw the very same completed dugout canoe on display indoors. I purchased a large coffee table photo book that described the process. Outside, there was Wayne and his young team working on yet another dugout canoe. He recognized us from years earlier as we observed the boiling water/hot rock end stage and obtained autographs from the young people whose photos were featured in the book.
Tlingit master carver Wayne Price has a relationship with the ocean and the tides that runs deeper than most. He carves dugout canoes in Haines and his work and words are set to hit the road in the spring as part of the Smithsonian’s Water/Ways exhibit. It’s a traveling show from the Smithsonian...