SUQUAMISH Leaning over the center
of a partially carved 32-foot-long western red cedar, master carver
Ray Natraoro's eyes moved down the grain of the old growth
tree. Using a level, string and pencil, Natraoro focused on the
center of the monstrous log, trying to determine where cuts should
be made to continue its transformation from a 10-ton tree into a
classic Salish-style tribal canoe.
The 800-year-old tree and Natraoro are
from British Columbia. The tree came from the Elaho Valley, north
of Vancouver, B.C., on territory owned by the Squamish Nation.
Natraoro was joined by Gary Gonzales and
Simon Reece, two other Squamish members in Suquamish last week.
They were in town to carve a dugout canoe for Tana Stobs, a canoe
family in Suquamish that includes members of the Suquamish and Port
Gamble S'Klallam tribes.
"It's a rare gift, these cedar
trees," said Nick Armstrong, a Tana Stobs family member. "We
had the word out there that someday we'd like a traditional
A canoe family is a group of extended
family members and close family friends who participate in annual
Tribal Canoe Journeys, in which Indians travel from their homes
to a common destination within the Coast Salish territory.
The family first participated in the journey
in the same year Armstrong's brother Santana was killed in
a car accident. The journey gave the grieving family a focus, sister
Faith Williams said. They chose Tana Stobs as their canoe family
name to honor Santana, whose nickname was Tana. Stobs means man
in the Salish language, Williams said.
Previously, members of the Tana Stobs
family have used a fiberglass canoe. For this year's event
at the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in Skagit County, Armstrong
and his family will use both the fiberglass model and the one being
carved by Natraoro.
"It's pretty exciting because
before we'd do switch-outs," Williams said. Because of
the canoe family's size Williams and Armstrong have
32 cousins in the area members took turns in the one boat.
Now everyone can participate at the same
time including some of the youngest members, like Williams'
Watching Natraoro and other family members
work on the canoe last week, Williams commented on the canoe's
presence in the family.
"This canoe is going to be there
long after we've all gone," she said.
The canoe is the 18th carved by Natraoro,
who was commissioned to carve a canoe for the recent Winter Olympics
in Vancouver. The tradition of carving traces back seven generations
in Natraoro's family. He previously carved two canoes for the
Suquamish Tribe, one in 2001 and another in 2002.
Natraoro uses modern tools, including
chain saws and adzes, to shave away at the trunk. The tools replicate
the stone adzes and chisels used by his ancestors to build the dugout
canoes. Antlers were also used to do the intricate carving work.
But even with the assistance of modern
technology including measuring tools to make precise cuts
Natraoro follows the traditions of his ancestors. The Squamish
have a long-standing connection to the western red cedar tree, which
they call the "Mother Tree," Natraoro said. Canoe paddles
and seats are carved from discarded pieces as the canoe is shaped.
Rotted pieces of the trunk are mixed to create the red paint; bark
is used for baskets and clothing.
"This tree grew and its life was
taken when it was taken down," Natraoro said. "Our energy
and thoughts are all positive when we're working on this tree."
When the tree came down tribal members
gathered and prayed, he said. It wasn't the tribe's decision
to turn the tree into a canoe; the direction came from the tree.
After praying and studying the tree, it showed Natraoro what it
wanted to become, he said. While he uses his tools to help the canoe
take shape, he says all he is doing is following the lines the tree
"She's beautiful, you can already
see what she's going to become," Williams said. "Emotions
Natraoro hoped to have the canoe 90 percent
complete by Monday, when he was scheduled to return home. He plans
to return to finish up.
"It's going really fast,"
Armstrong said. "This canoe is transforming at a much quicker
pace. It's exciting."