A Three Nation Journey
By Shkooyéil (Tim Hall)
Yá Át X̱aawú Dís shuwaxíxi, ch’u nás’k haa Daḵká Lingít ḵwáan woosh een Áa Tleindáx̱ Natasahéenidé wutuwaḵoox̱ú, wé yaakw tlein tin.
This July, the three interior Tlingit nations, from Atlin, Carcross and Teslin completed a journey together on big canoes. We travelled from Atlin to Carcross, on Atlin and Tagish lakes, to arrive at the opening of Haa Ḵusteeyí, a cultural festival being held in Carcross, Yukon, for the first time.
Each boat had about a dozen paddlers, depending on the day, with a mix of men, women and youth and a wide range of ages. For many, it was the first time meeting paddlers from other communities. We started in Atlin, at a Taku River Tlingit camp, with the water calm like glass, and paddled past the town and crossed the lake to a old railroad trail.The canoes are stable when everyone is seated with their weight distributed evenly and is paddling together -- but they can be tippy if the group is out of sync. So, we were thankful to have calm conditions for the crossing.
We took a couple hours to portage the canoes across the trail to Tagish Lake, wheeling them across on 2x4 dollies. We had one flat tire and had to carry half of one of the canoes for the last kilometre or so; but other than that, it went smoothly. New support boats from Carcross met us on the other side.
The second day was calm again, and gave us time to get in sync with one another, which was good because the third day on the lake had 20km northerly winds early in the morning. Our Áa Tlein yaakw s’aatí, Atlin boat captain, Yaa Ndaḵín Yéil Wayne Carlick, had built a sail for the canoe with his friend Yant’eiteen George Esquiro.
We lashed the three canoes together, with the sail set up in the middle, and pulled out into the open water - and soon were sailing along faster than we had paddled on calm water the day before. It was a little unnerving at first - many had never sailed before - with the ropes between the boats straining tight with each wave, some of which got up to 3-4 feet high. Nonetheless, with the three boats together, it was extremely stable. It ended up being a very uplifting moment with Lingít, from all three communities, singing as the wind pushed us along. The day ended with completely calm water and by this time the paddlers were all used to each other and much more in sync, the boats stable and quick.
The fourth day had some sailing, although the winds weren’t as strong that day. So, we lashed the canoes together and had paddlers on the outside of the boats, on either side, pull together. Later that afternoon, we were wary of a potentially difficult crossing at Windy Arm, a notoriously rough part of the lake, but it all calmed down for the crossing. That evening we were joined, at camp, by a canoe of carvers who had been working in Carcross on a traditional red cedar dugout canoe. The fifth morning, it was a short paddle into Carcross. It was an absolutely perfect day, the water was like glass - ḵúnáx̱ kamduwayél’ - and from a distance we could hear the crowd at Carcross singing on the shore. It was a very dream-like moment, unforgettable, especially when Yaa Ndaḵín Yéil started singing as we came towards the shore. Tlíl a kaadé haa sakg̱wax’aaḵw, wé at shí, ts’ootaatx’, we will never forget that moment and that song.
The trip got better and better as it went along, as the paddling got more in sync and everyone got to know each other better. I would also like to say thank you to the people on support boats, the cooks, and the three yaakw s’aatí for leading the way - ḵúnáx̱ áwé gunalchéesh yoo yee daayax̱aḵá - we’re all looking forward to the next trip, on the Taku River to Juneau next year! Gunalchéesh, ldakát yeewháan.