Masters of the Water – Part 1


A beautiful convergence of cultures and skills, ending in four traditional watercrafts.


Before attending Adäka, I knew very little (if anything) about boats. But after spending a week at the festival, I left with a sincere appreciation for the craftsmanship, blood sweat and tears that all go into building them. We’re talking serious day and night work here. It's a combination of survival skills and creativity that demands an incredible amount of patience.

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Each day, I got to watch master boat builders from near and far complete four traditional water crafts that they had begun constructing in the month of June. They included a caribou and seal skin qayaq, a moose skin boat, a birch bark canoe, and a spruce dugout canoe. You can learn more about their history here.
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Below is Lyonel Grant, hailing from Te Awara Waka, Rotarua, New Zealand. This dude is considered by many to be the master of all masters when it comes to boat building and carving. He and his team crafted the dugout canoe, which is Às têxh’ tûdáxh ~ From the heart of a tree.
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For thousands of years, Indigenous people relied on cottonwood, cedar and spruce trees to create beautiful vessels for transport and inspiration. Dugout canoes permitted long journeys on the ocean and on swift river waters.
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Here’s Kiliii Yuyan (Nanai) – a Seattle-based qayaq builder and photographer. Kiliii is a descendant of the Han Chinese and the Indigenous Nanai/Hezhe people of Siberia. He has endless energy, and was thrilled to explain his craft to us as he went along. To see more of Kiliii's work, check out his blog.
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I felt really honoured to meet Wayne Price, below, from Haines Alaska. He was working on the dugout as well, and supported his team with quiet confidence. Wayne is really passionate about using boat making and traveling to heal. He leads boats trips that act as retreats, particularly for young people who are trying to get sober. I told Wayne, “I want to come on the next one!”
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These gals were hardcore. It was a lot of fun to see them work.
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Below, a shot of the moose hide boat - Dzísk’u dáxh dùk tín - With Skin from the Moose. Today, people are rediscovering the elegant simplicity of their ancestors’ moose skin boats. Culture camps teach youth the skills of hunting, tanning and sewing so these techniques will survive to inform all future generations.
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I really enjoyed watching the carvers work together as friends. Here, Lyonel consults with his co-master Dempsey Bob (Tahltan, Tlingit).
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Dempsey Bob is one of the world's most celebrated artists and teachers. He has crafted some of the most famous carvings in history, and in 2013 was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.
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Here are 2 of Dempsey's works - Northern Eagles and Raven's Journey (photos courtesy of Spirit Wrestler Gallery and The Georgia Straight):
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Now back to Kiliii... He told me, "my favorite part of building a qayaq is bending the ribs. As the ribs get bent, the qayaq changes from a few pieces of wood into a skeleton, and you can see the similarity to a whale skeleton. It's beginning to come to life."
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The beginnings of a traditional qayaq - who would've thought?
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Photos by Paul Cowan

Xina Cowan is the Editor-in-Chief of WIOT Magazine, and a digital media Producer at Rezolution Pictures in Montreal. She has the privilege of working with remarkable community members every day, and uses the web as a platform to build strength, connections, and ideas. In her spare time, she loves bopping around with her two bunnies and dreaming about beadwork.

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