than just a canoe has been under construction in the front yard
of a home on Corby Avenue.
The band of amateur boat builders who've been creating the rare
replica a Native American vessel are also rebuilding a sense of
community shattered by history.
"This is a symbol of our cultural revitalization," said L. Frank
Manriquez, an artist and member of the tiny Tongva tribe, whose
homeland is in present day Los Angeles.
Manriquez, 61, is the architect of an effort to construct an
18-foot sewn plank canoe and paddle it down the coast of Washington
State as part of a gathering of Native American peoples next week
at the Quinault Indian Nation.
Building the craft is something she's had in the back of her
mind since 1989, when she was part of a similar project by Tongva
tribe's neighbors to the north, the Chumash.
Sewn plank canoes were common in Polynesian culture but rare
in North America, built only by the Tongva and Chumash. Since large
trees suitable for boat-building were hard to come by in their coastal
areas, the tribes sewed together smaller pieces of wood, usually
driftwood from redwood trees, sealing the seams with pitch tar abundant
in the area, explained Jesse Drescher, a Tongva member and student
in Olympia, Wash.
He's one of several people helping on the project who are descended
from far-flung tribes, including Pomo and Wappo from California,
Navajo from the Southwest, Tlingit from the Pacific Northwest and
Choctaw from Oklahoma.
Drescher has been reconnecting with his tribal roots of late,
including learning from Manriquez, a tribal scholar and expert in
native language preservation, how to speak the largely extinct Tongva
His right forearm bears a new tattoo in a red diamond pattern
as a testament to his deepening tribal identity. The building of
the canoe, or ti'aat, is an extension of that effort to help native
peoples reconnect with their tribal traditions.
"People don't know how to be a community anymore," Manriquez
Work on the craft started several weeks ago after they were
able to secure a supply of redwood from a donor in Gualala named
Mark Stillman, who milled most of it into 1x6 lengths. For other
project costs, the group secured a modest grant from the Christensen
Fund in San Francisco, a private organization that supports biocultural
With the help of Ethan Castro, a member of the Round Valley
tribe, the redwood boards were bent using a home-made steamer in
Manriquez's garage, and joined together using marine glue and stitches.
The seams were sewn together with hundreds of individual high-tension
stitches made of nylon line, all of which were then sealed with
Over the weekend, the team was working hard to put the finishing
touches on the 400-pound craft, which still had many stitches unsealed
and had yet to be stained or decorated. The goal was to have it
ready for the open road by Tuesday morning, but Manriquez admitted
it was going to be close.
"Everything's drying on the drive. Even the laundry," she said.
Time is of the essence because the plan is to begin their journey
at Neah Bay at the northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula on
Friday. From there four paddlers will travel more than 100 miles
south to Point Grenville on the Quinault territory, where dozens
of boats from Pacific Rim tribes will land and participate in a
five-day celebration known as a potlatch.
They've made some modifications they hope will help their vessel
handle the open waters of the Pacific, including wings that should
act to buoy her through waves and a 2-inch keel carved into her
otherwise flat bottom.
As she admired the long, narrow craft taking shape in her front
yard, Manriquez was confident of one thing: "She's going to be fast."