Paddling to victory

One People, SEARHC teams earn wins in Tlingit war canoe races

Posted: Sunday, July 07, 2002

The One People team couldn't have asked for a better performance in its first batch of Tlingit war canoe races Saturday at Twin Lakes.

Having paddled together for just one month, One People claimed victory in the men's and coed races while its women's team tied for second. The women's race went to the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) team. The races were held in conjunction with the three-day Gathering of the Tribes Pow Wow 2002 event at Centennial Hall.

"This was our first race, our first time out there," One People team captain Doug Chilton said after winning the men's race. "Those guys, they're good. But we're not done yet."

Many of the One People paddlers said they were drafted into the Sealaska boats during the Celebration 2002 races last month. They decided they should form their own team, and several of the team members carved their own paddles for Saturday's races. Jim O'Donnell's paddle even had notches carved for his fingers.

"Most of us are artists and craftspeople," Sonny Grant said.

Brian Cox was the rudderman for One People and he used a handcarved rudder he started on Friday. The rudder was 9 feet, 6 inches tall and he said it weighs about 50 pounds. Regular paddles were much lighter - not much heavier than a slugger's baseball bat.

"This one here took about five hours," Cox said. "I plan to take it down another five pounds, then I'll paint it."

Chilton said his group plans to find some logs to carve traditional Tlingit canoes, so local teams can use those instead of the 30-foot-long fiberglass replicas used in Saturday's races.

The One People men's team covered two laps of the approximately one-mile course in 19 minutes, 20 seconds to open Saturday's series of four races. The Tribal Renegades, who won the men's race last month during the Celebration 2002 canoe races at Sandy Beach, took second place in 20:16 while SEARHC was third in 20:32.

One People took advantage of a navigational error by the Tribal Renegades, who thought the course was the same as during the Celebration 2000 canoe races at Twin Lakes. Tribal Renegades started to go the wrong way around the buoys and ended up paddling a longer course.

"We won, but just barely," Chilton said. "If they'd gone the right way it would have been nip-and-tuck at the finish line."

SEARHC got off to a fast start in the women's race and its canoe was able to avoid some of the bumping that went on between the One People and Tribal Rengades boats, who paddled as if they were two cars trading paint in a NASCAR race. The SEARHC boat finished its one-lap race in 12:50, while the One People and Tribal Renegades boats tied for second place with identical times of 13:15.

"Nobody should bump," SEARHC captain/rudderwoman Dolores Cadiente said. "Even if they're side-by-side, they shouldn't bump."

Cadiente said this is SEARHC's third year with a team, but there are several new crew members who have taken a fancy to the sport. She said the races are a good way for Tlingits to reconnect to their culture and to learn Tlingit values. Many paddlers were non-Native, so it was a way they could learn about the history and culture of their hometown.

"These races are about the respect of the water and the respect of our culture," Cadiente said. "They're also about teamwork and unity, not about myself and I."

The coed race was split into two heats, with the overall winner determined by best time. That meant One People-Team A won by four seconds over Tribal Renegades, even though the two squads didn't face each other in head-to-head competition.

One People-Team A won the first heat in 11:15, followed by SEARHC in 11:47. A team featuring several disabled paddlers from Outdoor Recreation and Community Access (ORCA) took third place in 16:21. Tribal Renegades won the second heat in 11:19, followed by One People-Team B in 11:32 and a community mix-and-match team took third in 13:25.

"That was my first time paddling," said Louis Hernandez, who paddled with the ORCA team. "It won't be my last. I liked paddling. It's hard to beat all my Tlingit relatives."

"Every couple of seconds I took a break, but we kept it up," ORCA's Robert Frick said. "We had a great time. Me and Leroy George were the power in our team. If we keep at it, we can tear 'em up."

Jade Florendo, who organized Saturday's races, said more than 100 children with the RALLY program will get to take turns paddling the canoes Wednesday at Twin Lakes. She said there will be another set of races July 28 at Sandy Beach.

Cadiente said several of the local teams will be going to the Dog Salmon Days races July 20 in Kake, and a special catamaran has been arranged to take people from Juneau to the festival.

William Brown, captain of the Tribal Renegades, said other paddlers are going to Quinnault, Wash., for a Gathering of the Canoes event on Aug. 10-12 that will feature teams from Oregon and British Columbia. He said the local paddlers plan to pick up two wooden canoes carved by Seattle-based Haida carver Robert Peele. They'll use the canoes in the Quinnault races, then they'll paddle them back to Alaska, leaving one in Hydaburg and bringing the other to Juneau.

Charles Bingham can be reached at


Results from the Gathering of the Tribes Pow Wow 2002 Tlingit war canoe races held Saturday at Twin Lakes. The men's race was two laps of a one-mile course, while all the other races were one lap. The coed race was held in two heats, with the best times determining the overall winner.

Men - 1. One People, 19 minutes, 20 seconds; 2. Tribal Renegades, 20:16; 3. SEARHC, 20:32.

Women - 1. SEARHC, 12:50; 2. tie, One People, 13:15; 2. tie, Tribal Renegades, 13:15.

Coed - 1. One People-Team A (heat one), 11:15; 2. Tribal Renegades (heat two), 11:19; 3. One People-Team B (heat two), 11:32; 4. SEARHC (heat one), 11:47; 5. Community mix-and-match (heat two), 13:25; 6. ORCA (heat one), 16:21.

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