Kids launch into Native

projectSeattle students build Haida war canoe bound for Alaska

Posted: Friday, February 27, 2004

SEATTLE A Haida war canoe, built over the past three years by youngsters at Alternative School 1, was water-tested Tuesday in choppy waters off Golden Gardens Park in Puget Sound.

''Not only did it float beautifully but it paddled so well, even with the wind and the waves,'' said Ron Snyder, principal of the school for students from kindergarten to eighth grade.

About 150 current AS1 students turned out for the launching on the blustery beach, Snyder said, along with former AS1 students who've gone on to middle school and members of tribes including the Haida and Tlingit of Alaska and the Duwamish and Snohomish of Washington state.

The 40-foot red-cedar canoe ''Ocean Spirit'' was carved with assistance from Haida carver Robert ''Saaduuts'' Peele.

''He's our master carver,'' Snyder said. ''He led the journey.''

It is decorated with four 10-foot black-and-copper-leaf eagles, two at the bow and two at the stern.

''They're magnificent,'' Snyder said proudly.

The inside is painted red and covered with golden-paint hand prints from the children who helped build it and carved its 15 paddles.

On Wednesday, the canoe was due to be displayed along with the tools students used and photos of the launch and the three-year Carving Cultural Connections project at the city Board of Education meeting at the Seattle School District's downtown offices.

Next month, it will be sent to Hydaburg, on Alaska's Prince of Wales Island, and given to the Haida people. More than two dozen AS1 students will fly up April 3 to participate, bringing hundreds of beaded bracelets and other handmade gifts, Snyder said.

The project celebrates ''the canoe culture all up and down the coast, from here to Alaska,'' Snyder said.

''Children have always been able to make changes adults can't figure out,'' he said, so the decision was made ''to use the canoe as a transition vehicle to bond the Haida people to the AS1 families here in Seattle.''

He said Peele would like to see the canoe used in a journey from Hydaburg to Haida Gwaii in the Queen Charlottes, ''something that hasn't been done in a long time.''

The alternative school, whose student body is about 10 percent Native, has always focused on the region's maritime heritage, Snyder said.

Usually the focus alternates between sailing the school has a yacht club and has built six 3-meter sailboats and canoeing. But this year has been given over to completion of the canoe and a fleet of model sailboats, which students will take to New York in May for a Central Park Pond competition.

Peele was recruited from the Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union in 1999, when he was completing a 33-foot canoe, the Spirit of Peace, for Alaska's Tlingit people.

About a year later, Weyer-haeuser donated a 45-foot red cedar log from the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. Then, to support Peele as artist-in-residence for the undertaking, ''we wrote grants,'' Snyder said. ''A number of foundations stepped forward.''

Tools and a roofed shelter were provided by some of the school's 75 corporate sponsors.

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