From Log to Canoe: A Seattle Native American Carves Traditional Canoes
Saaduuts chip away at a large cedar trunk, on the shore of Seattle’s Lake Union. He has spent the past 15 years hand carving canoes in the traditional Native American style.
“I’m a Tsimshian-Haida from Alaska and I’ve been opened by the spirit. I talk like that because this is the way I talk every day. I live it and I’ve been blessed to be able to make canoes.”
Admittedly, it was a wee bit tough to get down to the nitty gritty of traditional canoe carving, because every question I asked Saaduuts, from “How do you turn a tree trunk into a canoe?” to “How long does the process take?” came with a long, spiritual tagline.
“It’ll be able to help us connect with our families and have respect for the Tree People and make the awareness that we have to honor all living things. The trees are our life, our filter, for shade shade and stopping water, landslides…”
But that’s just part of his charm!
Saaduuts’ life is not one of fast pace, smart phones, on-demand or instant results; he works on his canoes slowly and steadily. He’s only carved seven in 15 years.
“It took five and a half years to [build that canoe]. It was 38 feet long and it had a lot of defects. What I teach is that we can fix it and honor the Tree People and make it work. We had big holes in the log and we learned to fix it.”
Saaduuts is also proud of his work with school children. Everyone gets to help make the canoes.
“I’m doing something that most canoe makers don’t do, I do it with young people. I do it with all ages. The youngest one was 1-year-old twins.”
He now works with an apprentice, Brant Lodge, who he has been formally adopted into his family.
“I love the traditional factor. It really brings you back to older ways and a more primal connection with Mother Earth.”
Saaduuts describes the entire process of turning a massive tree trunk into a usable canoe.
“Once we’re done with the outside here, we’re going to start turning it over and hollow it out. We’ll get it down to about 3/4 of an inch all the way through. We’ll take salt water and soak it for a couple days and then we’ll get volcanic rock from the mountains and put that in the bonfire. Every 20 minutes we’ll change about 300, 400 pounds of rock and steam [the canoe] and it’ll push the belly down.”
I asked Saaduuts what the significance of a canoe is to native people.
“It’s our bread and butter. It’s a lifeline. A canoe maker is very important like a cook in the family, you know, or a mother of a child. Use canoes to go out and get salmon, berries and go meet the family.”
You can catch Saaduuts carving his canoe near Seattle’s Center for Wooden Boats.
Exterior photo courtesy Saduuts’ Facebook page