Alaska, Canada Paddlers Link Two Metlakatlas

The Gathering Strength Canoe Journey paddlers are photographed during their trip from Metlakatla, B.C., to Metlakatla, Alaska. Photo courtesy Gathering Strength Canoe Journey.
The Gathering Strength Canoe Journey paddlers are photographed during their trip from Metlakatla, B.C., to Metlakatla, Alaska. Photo courtesy Gathering Strength Canoe Journey.

Six traditional canoes have retraced a historic Tsimshian route from British Columbia’s northern coast to southern Southeast Alaska.

About 100 people  paddled from the Canadian village of Metlakatla to the Alaska village of the same name. They arrived this morning (Aug. 7). Watch a video of the ceremony celebrating their Alaska arrival.

Kelly Bolton is organizing events on the American end of what’s called the Gathering Strength Canoe Journey.

She says it’s been a safe trip.

Young canoers paddle and swim during their journey to Alaska. Photo courtesy Diane Raymond Stewart of Kingcolith, B.C.
Young canoers paddle and swim during their journey to Alaska. Photo courtesy Diane Raymond Stewart of Kingcolith, B.C.

“Flat and calm. It couldn’t have been better. The weather was on their side. Everything was on their side,” Bolton says.

Southeast’s Metlakatla was founded about 120 years ago by followers of Anglican missionary William Duncan. They canoed from their old home to a newly created Indian reservation, following a religious dispute.

The contemporary Canadian paddlers are in their eighth year of journeys. But this is the first time they’ve traveled between the two Metlakatlas.

Bolton says most of the canoers are teen-agers.

“We’ve even had several of our youth and three chaperones from Metlakatla who took part in this journey. So that is very historic, having our own people take part in this journey,” she says.

Watch a video of the canoes being greeted at Metlakatla, B.C.

One of the Gathering Strength Canoe Journey vessels floats next to an accompanying boat along the way. Photo courtesy Diane Raymond Stewart of Kingcolith, B.C.
One of the Gathering Strength Canoe Journey vessels floats next to an accompanying boat along the way. Photo courtesy Diane Raymond Stewart of Kingcolith, B.C.

The paddlers stopped at an isolated beach on Tuesday. They pulled into Metlakatla today as part of the community’s Founder’s Day celebration.

Bolton says leaders are planning a feast.

“It’s just been amazing the way the community of Metlakatla has all come together as one and how everybody has helped prepare for this. The amount of food that has been donated, the Native traditional food that’s been donated, it’s just amazing,” she says.

Bolton says the trip began July 31st. Canoers also stopped in Prince Rupert and several nearby Native communities.

The final stop is Thursday in Saxman, next to Ketchikan. Paddlers will then board an Alaska ferry for the ride back to B.C.

See more journey photos and information on Facebook.

 

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.