North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World

We Talk to the Trees

Tlingit Canoes
The canoe and more recently the motorboat are the primary means of travel for the people of the Northwest Coast. Access to everything—other villages as well as fishing and hunting grounds—is by water.

Canoes were normally built in the winter, when the Tlingit were not as occupied with subsistence activities. They were constructed from the straight-grained wood of red cedar trees that had been blown over by the wind or felled by building a fire at the base. The log was hollowed out with hand tools and shaped by filling the cavity with water and dropping hot stones into it. Pieces of wood were then wedged across the gunwales to give the sides the desired degree of flare. The outer sides of the canoe were often painted and the bow carved.

The Tlingit made different types of canoes that varied in size and shape depending on their function. Small canoes carried two or three persons, whereas larger ones could hold sixty people and be forty feet long.

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