Here's what's happening at culture camp: building two kayaks

Students at a traditional culture camp run by the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association are learning how to build traditional kayaks. (KTUU)

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Two kayaks hand-made in the Aleut way were expected to be launched Thursday to traditional dance and drumming at Jewel Lake.

The kayaks, a product of a traditional cultural camp run by the nonprofit Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, used traditional carved driftwood and designs found in museums. But instead of sea-lion skin, they used cloth, and modern thread bound the frame, not sinews.

The master carpenter who supervised their construction, Californian Marc Daniels of Make Access Iqyax Apprenticeships, said the kayaks, or iqyax, have no glue or screws. Daniels, a boat builder who lived in Washington state before visiting the Pribilofs in the 1990s, said he designed the craft from exhibits in museums and descriptions in old texts.

Now Daniels is returning the ancient art of sea-kayak building to the Aleuts at their cultural camps in Anchorage and the widely scattered villages of the association’s territory. Daniels said he wishes he could have apprenticed to the long-gone Aleut craftsmen, but seeing their work in museums has been a good second-best.

The camps are more than kayak making, though that would be difficult enough. Other activities include drumming, dance and grass weaving, and making and consuming traditional foods.

In an interview with KTUU, Daniels and another California craftsman, Jiordi Rosales, said they tried to stay true to the ancient designs, building a craft that’s lighter and quieter than a modern carbon-fiber or plastic sea kayak. The bow, for instance, has an ancient — and exclusive — Aleut design that reduces the risk of the rough water around the Aleutian Islands from spraying into the craft.

Even the name of the vessel is important. “Don’t call it a canoe or a boat,” Rosales said.

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