Documentary captures historic Tlingit canoe journey from B.C. to Alaska

A documentary airing on the CBC captures the Taku River Tlingit First Nation as they take a traditional canoe route to Alaska for first time in a century.

Taku River Tlingit took traditional route for first time in a century

Paddlers on a misty day on the Taku River. The boat followed the same route taken by Tlingit for hundreds of years. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Standing in front of the Taku River, partway through a historic trip, Wayne Carlick looked out at a group of paddlers. 

"This is our river. We used to travel up it many times," he told them. 

"You're here for a reason... it's up to you to find your reason why you're here." 

The moment was captured by CBC Yukon journalist and filmmaker Mike Rudyk in his documentary Tlatsini: Journey of the Taku Kwan, now available to stream on CBC Gem.  

Shot in 2018, it tells the story of a group from the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN,) who decided to travel by canoe to visit their relatives in Alaska for the first time in a century. 

Carlick — canoe leader, master carver, and residential school survivor — guided the canoe convoy nearly 160 kilometres on the Taku river, into the ocean, and to Douglas Harbor in Juneau, Alaska. 

A rainbow appears ahead of the canoe convoy as it made its way to Alaska. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

After more than two years of planning, the route began on Cranberry Island, B.C., part of the traditional territory of the TRTFN. Their territory covers over 40,000 square kilometres and includes what is now known as British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska.

"It's been about 100 years since they've taken this route," said Rudyk, who alternated between paddling and shooting his film during the week-long journey. 

"That was really powerful, because when you think about it, there's this lost connection, and now they are bringing it together again," Rudyk told Northbeat host Megan Roberts. 

Yukon filmmaker on the making of his documentary, Tlatsini

22 days ago
Filmmaker Mike Rudyk speaks to CBC Northbeat host Meghan Roberts about his documentary, Tlatsini. 5:24

The canoe convoy arrived at Douglas Harbor in time for Celebration, a four-day festival celebrating Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures. 

In the documentary, Carlick describes arriving in Douglas Harbor as a homecoming. 

"Our people have suffered a long time, and they've been separated ... because of the border. And we're reconnecting that," he said. 

"It fills my whole heart with joy, because we're making relationships again."

You can watch the documentary on CBC Gem by clicking here.

Dancing, music and celebration awaited the paddlers in Douglas Harbor, where Celebration is held every two years. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

With files from Mike Rudyk