NVE receives NPS grant, builds traditional boats

26-foot long palaaq to be created and gifted for use at traditional day camp

Delores Taylor during the fourth day of the Ilanka Cultural Center's boat building class. (Photo by Brooke Johnson/for The Cordova Times)

Over the next few months, yellow and red cedar from Washington state will be meticulously carved and shaped in Cordova during the Ilanka Cultural Center’s boat building class, with a goal of creating 15 qayaqs (kayaks) and two palaaqs (canoes).

Once completed, the red cedar qayaqs, covered with airplane fabric, will be a little over 14 feet long and weigh roughly 20 pounds.

“It all takes way more time than you’d think,” said ICC cultural director Brooke Johnson. The bow will be the most intensive part of the building process, estimated to take roughly 10 hours to carve.

During their February class, the group will begin working on the yellow cedar ribs of the qayaqs.

Johnson applied for a National Park Service grant available to Indian tribes, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian organizations, through the park’s historic preservation fund. The Native Village of Eyak was awarded a little over $43,000 to complete this project.

NVE used part of the grant money to hire Washington-based qayaq instructor Mitch Poling to assist the class. He will visit Cordova once a month for five days each visit.


It was in Chenega, where Poling was raised, that he found his love of the Alutiiq-style traditional boats.

Johnson met Poling at the Nuuciq Spirit Camp where Poling taught boat building.

While in town, Poling will also to try to help repair NVE’s older palaaq, built about 15 years ago, that was damaged by heavy snow in 2012. Locally-sourced lumber will be sought for its repair.

In addition to the 15 qayaqs, one 26-foot long palaaq is to be built and then gifted to NVE’s Miqwanwasiq Day Camp, a traditional day camp held five days a week every summer for two-and-a-half months.

“Our lives were circled around a lot of the things that happened on the water,” Johnson said.

Johnson hopes to take the campers out on Eyak Lake with the new palaaq this summer.

“I’m trying to get us on the water more and I’d like us to do it on our traditional ways,” she said.

Duke Anderson will be creating a miniature palaaq as well. Paddles for the boats will be made out of old growth red cedar from Canada.

“If people want to come out there and see it … definitely we have volunteers … we’re open to that,” Johnson said. “Extra hands are not shunned.”

Aaron Bowman and Tina Fox were also hired by NVE to be the group’s palaaq instructors.

“The act of making these, we’re able to get more tribal members involved,” Johnson said.

NVE elder care coordinator Jackie Ladd has also worked with Johnson on construction of the boat house, two heated and insulated lockers at the Prince William Marina. This gives tribal members a place to gather and work on projects as well as a storage place for tools, Johnson said.

The boat building class was available for anyone to join. Johnson’s original grant was written for 10 qayaqs, but ultimately extended to accommodate the growing community interest.

The annual Ilanka Cultural Center Membership Dinner at the Cordova Center on Jan. 22 will feature skits of some Chugach and Eyak Legends. Dinner tickets cost $25. ICC memberships, available for purchase year round, are open to all and costs $20. Members receive email notifications about upcoming classes and have first choice to fill the classes.