Sealaska joined the One People Canoe Society for a paddle making workshop in Isleton, California in October. This is the first paddle workshop Sealaska has been part of outside of Alaska.
The 28 participants started with planks of plain cedar from Southeast Alaska, and each walked away with a unique and traditional canoe paddle. Sealaska donated and delivered those cedar planks free of charge and assisted in travel expenses for the instructors to the three-day workshop.
“The Native spirit there brought tears to my eyes,” says Bill Bennett, General Manager for Sealaska Coastal Aggregates. He has managed the Sealaska Carving Program for over 20 years.
The youngest to attend was the 8-year-old son of Melanie Wolley, who made a paddle fitted just for him. Melanie said her grandmother would make Native art, and she wanted to make her grandmother proud. She says making her paddle was harder than she expected, but it was fun and very rewarding.
Stacy McDonald, traveled from Boise, Idaho to make a paddle. She says it felt like a family gathering as they all told stories and got to know each other. Diana Lynn lives in Crockett, California. She says transforming the wood was a magical experience. She says using wood from Southeast and her traditional homeland was a real gift.
Doug Chilton with One People Canoe Society provided guidance in sanding, carving and designing the artwork on each paddle. Many of the participants want to travel to Juneau, Alaska for the upcoming Celebration in June 2018. The festivities include a Canoe Journey, and they are excited to use their newly designed paddles to take part.
“I’m so grateful that Sealaska is supporting our outreach efforts to reach more of our shareholders that can’t make it back to their homeland for whatever reason,” Bennet says. “It’s a really commendable thing.”
What we heard at the California workshop
“I’m really thankful that the paddle workshop was held in California. A plane ticket to Alaska is not something that everybody can afford. When you visit shareholders down here, it’s a huge blessing to us.” - Ryan Kozisek, lives in Sacramento, CA
“I felt really good. It made me think about my ancestors.” - Linda Starbard, lives in Ocean Shores, WA
“Doing these kind of workshops and these little mini culture camps has given us a family here in northern California. We are so appreciative of you all coming down here.” - Lauren Peters, lives in Winters, CA
“I wanted to connect with something that is traditional and is an enduring symbol of our culture. Certainly a handmade paddle is one of those things – it’s almost like a rite of passage.” - Keith Fulton, lives in San Diego, CA
“When you make your own paddle, I felt it, there’s an energy between everyone here. I genuinely respect and appreciate every single person here. They’ve all helped each other out in some way.” - Dean Suttles, lives in Los Angeles, CA
About Sealaska Carving Program
Bill Bennett, Manager (right), stands next to Frank Peratrovich, Assistant Manager (left).
The program donates cedar bark and wood to non-profit organizations such as schools, village corporation programs, culture camps, multiple canoe societies and other programs. The wood comes from Sealaska Timber lands and the Bill Bennett and Frank Peratrovich inspect each milled piece for the highest quality.