Updated: September 30, 2023
The crew of Hōkūleʻa joined the Alaska Native community of Angoon, or Xutsnoowú Ḵwáan, on Monday, June 19, 2023, for the launch of its first traditional dugout canoe, or yaakw, in 140 years.
The 30-foot long canoe made of red cedar was a project led by Tlingit master carver and canoe builder Wayne Price. According to the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Price worked with students from Angoon High School to help them see their own resilience after a traumatic history that still leaves lasting impacts on their village today.
PVS reports it took about a year to build the canoe given the Tlingit name Chʻa Tleíx Tí meaning “unity.” The canoe was dedicated on Oct. 26, 2022, on the 140th anniversary of the US Navy bombardment of Angoon, which destroyed all but one of its fleet of dugout canoes and burned down all but five houses in the village. Many of the families of those who survived are still in Angoon today.
Once the community heard that Hōkūleʻa would be visiting their shores, they decided to hold the launch of their canoe for when the crew and Polynesian voyaging canoe were there to join in this celebration that represents a common movement for revival and healing among indigenous people around the world, PVS reports.
“The unity of people is the ripple of Angoon and we find comfort back home in Hawaiʻi knowing that the first canoe launched in 100 plus years carries this name. The carriers of this name are not only the Tlingit people but the grandchildren: the past, present, and future,” said Hōkūleʻa crewmember Kai Hoshijo in a blog post written for hokulea.com. “We as crewmembers of Hōkūleʻa were able to witness something incredibly special. We watched and learned about the canoe named “unity” from the youth of Angoon who dug it out, steamed, painted, and launched it today on June 19th, 2023. These grandchildren also named this canoe because they told us that they believe that this is the key,” she wrote.
Hōkūleʻa crew members joined the community as they walked down the main street of Angoon, in front of the clan houses before carrying the dugout canoe down with the youth to the shoreline at high tide. The students got into the canoe and before launching, the crew chanted Iā waʻa nui, a canoe chant from Hawaiʻi to Angoon.
“To be a part of this ceremony is an honor,” wrote Hoshijo. “As the crew members of Unity paddled, we sang, danced, and cheered for their accomplishment. We know this is just the beginning.”
“If there’s anything to take back home and across Moananuiākea from our time as witness to the launching of Unity, we will remember these distinct parts. There are many lessons of ho‘omau or perseverance that we take with us. The perseverance to perpetuate cultural practice found in family and place despite the colonization of our indigenous cultures. The Angoon leaders tell us of the bombing of their land and specifically their canoes in 1882 by the US Navy. We know similar pain in Hawaiʻi.”
“During the end of the ceremony, with tears in our eyes, we accepted an incredible gift. The gift of a seed. The seed of two grandfather trees for a new canoe gives us the promise to continue voyaging and sharing with our grandchildren across Moananuiākea. I am speechless to know that all of us accept this gift, but am at peace to know that our canoe is their canoe. In this way, we know we will be back to share and voyage with our family in Angoon. That is a promise, that is our seed,” wrote Hoshijo.
Hōkūleʻa arrived in Angoon on Sunday, June 28 after about a week in Juneau where the four-year circumnavigation of the Moananuiākea Voyage was launched. Weather permitting, the canoe will depart Angoon for Kake on Friday morning. Additional ports of call in Southeast Alaska include (subject to change due to weather):
Hydaburg will be the last stop in Alaska and then the canoe will enter British Columbia.