First Nation plans homecoming canoe journey down the Taku River

The Taku River First Nation is planning a historic canoe trip from the Canadian border of the Taku River to Juneau Alaska. The three-day canoe trip is to coincide with the opening of Celebration 2018. Celebration is one of the largest gatherings of Alaska and Yukon Native traditional dancers. It is put on every two years in Juneau Alaska.

Three-day trip to coincide with large gathering of Alaska and Yukon Native traditional dancers this summer

Wayne Carlick of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation is looking for paddlers to join him on a canoe journey, down the Taku River to Juneau, Alaska in June. (Wayne Carlick)

It will be an early morning in the first week of June when ten paddlers set off down the Taku River in a traditional Tlingit ocean-going canoe, to reach Juneau, Alaska.

The estimated three-day trip will start at Cranberry Island, near the Yukon/B.C. border and cover nearly 160 kilometres through some of the most spectacular and remote wilderness in North America. 

For Wayne Carlick of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, who's organizing the journey, it will be a sort of homecoming.

"The first time I actually returned to the Taku River myself — because I grew up there, and return[ed] to the Taku River as a fisherman — I had a vision of the canoes coming up the Taku River," said Carlick, who's also the dance leader for the Taku Kwaan dancers. 

Wayne Carlick says he's wanted to make the journey for a long time. (Submitted by Wayne Carlick)

"And I think one of the last times I was actually on the Taku River, we were building a cabin down there, and some of the trees started snapping off when the wind came, and I said, 'that's how people got up the river — by using the wind and poles."

Since that time, Carlick has dreamed of returning to the traditional travelling routes of his ancestors. But it's logistically challenging.

"The glaciers there, the flats, the winds coming in from the ocean and the tides as well — so all of those things combined, we will have to figure out how to keep ourselves safe and keep moving forward toward Juneau," he said.

The paddlers will travel in a traditional Tlingit ocean-going canoe. (Wayne Carlick)

In time for Celebration 2018

Carlick's plan is to arrive when other Tlingit canoes from the Alaska interior show up in Juneau for Celebration 2018, which takes place June 6 to 9. 

The event is held every second year. Since 1982, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people from the U.S. and Canada have come to celebrate dance and culture.

The Taku River flows from the B.C. interior to the tidewater at the mouth of Taku Inlet. The inlet and lower 40 kilometres of the river are in the U.S., and the inlet is about 16 kilometres southeast of Juneau. 

The Taku is one of the largest salmon-producing rivers in Canada, and the Taku River valley is part of the traditional territory of the Taku River Tlingit First Nations from Atlin, B.C. The area has been used and occupied by First Nations for thousands of years.

"It will be nice to be able to go back from the Canadian side over to the American side, all the way to Juneau, Alaska, and be welcomed by the people who actually stayed in Juneau — who are still Taku River Tlingit people, but just didn't come up into Canada," Carlick said.   

"That is going to be significant for us, in how we rejoin our people that are American people, that we separated from."

The Taku Kwaan dancers at Celebration, in Juneau. The event is held in Juneau every second year. (Wayne Carlick)

Carlick says his dance group, the Taku Kwaan Dancers, typically invites Alaskan Taku River Tlingit to join them as they sing and dance at Celebration.

Carlick says he is still looking for paddlers from the Taku First Nations to go on the once-in-a-lifetime trip.

He's also inviting other First Nations from Yukon to organize more canoes to make the journey.


Mike Rudyk

Reporter, CBC Yukon

Mike Rudyk has worked for CBC Yukon since 1999, as a reporter and videographer. He lives in Whitehorse.