Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

December 30, 2000 - Issue 26


Tribal Carver Helps Cedar Canoes Take Shape

by Jenni Odekirk-The Skagit Valley Herald

LA CONNER -- Canadian master carver Keith Point has come to the Swinomish Indian Reservation to show two tribal members the finer points of carving canoes.

Point, who is half Swinomish, is helping two tribal members carve racing canoes while he works on a river canoe commissioned by the tribe.

Although a river canoe is used for carrying cargo and people along rivers, Point said its construction its similar to a racing canoe.

The river and racing canoes are being carved out of an old-growth red cedar salvaged from the Concrete area.

The tree fell, blocking a fire exit road. When Swinomish tribal members heard the U.S. Forest Service was going to remove the tree, they requested it for carving canoes.

The tribe is paying expenses related to the canoe carving with a $25,000 grant from the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission, a division of Seattle City Light.

The tribe plans to take the canoe for an inaugural trip in June along a traditional route on the Skagit River, from the Swinomish Channel to Ross Lake.

Point's river canoe will be 28 feet long, 2 inches thick and have capacity for 12 people.

"I believe canoe carving is an art and gift I've been given," Point said. "I try to share it with as many people as I can, so it can continue after I'm gone."

Point is one of about five Northwest artisans who carve canoes for use rather than art. He said Swinomish tribal members Jim Washington and Brian Porter are showing potential as canoe carvers.

"I'm quite impressed," Point said. "They show a lot of drive."

Washington, Porter's apprentice, purchased carving tools and plans to continue carving and teach what he has learned from Point.

The canoe carving is part of the tribe's ongoing revival of its traditions, said Linda Day, Swinomish cultural resource coordinator.

Canoeing was once a way for the Swinomish to travel. And many songs and prayers developed around the activity.

Lately, canoe racing has made a comeback in the Swinomish tribal community, especially among the youth.

"Canoeing seems to be one of the activities that interest the kids," Day said.

Tribal children formed the Swinomish Canoe Club and took part in several races this summer. Three tribal members even went to a boat race in Australia this August.

"Canoeing is a big thing in our community and we want to bring it back," Day said.

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