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Stillaguamish Dugout River Canoe

September 4, 2012 by  

Stillaguamish Dugout River Canoe, Monty Charlie greets them with his shirt off, sweat on his brow and a chisel in his hand. Laughing as they get out of the car on this warm February day, Stillaguamish tribal members Shawn Yanity and Jeff Tatro tease Charlie and holler for him to get dressed.

It’s an hour’s drive for Yanity and Tatro from their Arlington homes to this house on the Lummi reservation near Bellingham. The cousins keep making this trip in an attempt to reclaim their past.

Around back, the men greet artist Felix Solomon, who owns this home and studio along a flat road through an old cow pasture.

On the patio sits the reason for the trip.

From a huge cedar log, Solomon is carving the Stillaguamish Tribe’s first new dugout river canoe in more than a century.

It’s a labor-intensive project and Yanity and Tatro and neighbor Charlie are there to help. They stand for hours to work on the 22-foot canoe, which is elevated on blocks of Styrofoam.

As they pull drawknives across the bottom of the red cedar canoe, a sweet aroma held within the wood for centuries is released as the shavings and chips fall at their feet.

It’s hard work, but there is time for coffee and jokes among the men.

“I roll my eyes when people stop by and ask if I’m going to carve anything on the canoe,” Solomon says of spectators seemingly oblivious to the work involved in carving a boat from a heavy, ancient log.

They all laugh.
Monty Charlie greets them with his shirt off, sweat on his brow and a chisel in his hand.

Laughing as they get out of the car on this warm February day, Stillaguamish tribal members Shawn Yanity and Jeff Tatro tease Charlie and holler for him to get dressed.

It’s an hour’s drive for Yanity and Tatro from their Arlington homes to this house on the Lummi reservation near Bellingham. The cousins keep making this trip in an attempt to reclaim their past.

Around back, the men greet artist Felix Solomon, who owns this home and studio along a flat road through an old cow pasture.

On the patio sits the reason for the trip.

From a huge cedar log, Solomon is carving the Stillaguamish Tribe’s first new dugout river canoe in more than a century.

It’s a labor-intensive project and Yanity and Tatro and neighbor Charlie are there to help. They stand for hours to work on the 22-foot canoe, which is elevated on blocks of Styrofoam.

As they pull drawknives across the bottom of the red cedar canoe, a sweet aroma held within the wood for centuries is released as the shavings and chips fall at their feet.

It’s hard work, but there is time for coffee and jokes among the men.

“I roll my eyes when people stop by and ask if I’m going to carve anything on the canoe,” Solomon says of spectators seemingly oblivious to the work involved in carving a boat from a heavy, ancient log.

They all laugh.

“Yeah, like they want you to carve a totem pole coming out the side of it,” Tatro says.

Eagles perch in the cedar and alder trees that grow around the backyard pond Solomon’s grandfather dug to water his cattle. The birds chatter while the carvers smooth the canoe’s sleek shape. It seems that whenever they are carving these days, the eagles are watching.

“Carving is spiritual work,” Yanity says. “It makes you wonder if the eagles aren’t the eyes of our ancestors guiding us through this project.”

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