NACTEC students construct traditional King Island kayak
A handful of students from the Bering Strait region learned entrepreneurial and traditional kayak building skills during a four-week long Northwestern Alaska Career and Technical Center course. The end-result was two kayaks, one a Greenlandic style, the other a King Island kayak. The King Island style kayak will become a permanent fixture in Kawerak’s Katirvik Cultural Center.
Lisa Ellanna with the Katirvik Cultural Center said the collaboration with NACTEC started with a correspondence between herself and NACTEC Director Doug Walrath. Though this is not the first year the NACTEC class has built kayaks, it is the first time that one will be displayed in the cultural center. “It’s an amazing, amazing collaborative project,” she said.
Brian Volk, who teaches the Native Arts and Business class, said that students learned how to calculate the cost of a product—in this case a kayak—by analyzing the price of materials and the cost of labor. The students researched the history of kayaks and, with help from Greenlandic kayaker and kayak builder Maligiaq Padilla, Cameron Okbaok of Teller and King Islander Vince Pikonganna, learned how to construct them.
Padilla, who has been building kayaks for over 20 years, is familiar with over 40 different styles. However, “The King Island kayak is a lost design,” Volk said. Padilla built a boat in the “tradition” of the King Island boat with a NACTEC class once before, but this time he had an actual model.
Padilla wanted an example of a King Island kayak to follow. A family in Nome had a 75-year-old boat from the island that had become a fixture on the outside of their home. Ellanna knew of the boat, built by the late Edward Muktoyuk, Sr., and contacted the family. Padilla helped the students to reconstruct the kayak with modern materials and driftwood. Ellanna explained that King Island Kayaks are wider than most, and slightly shorter. They are built to navigate through rough seas.
Volk praised Pikonganna for his influence on the class. Pikonganna spoke about the history of kayaks, built the paddle for the boat, and provided the Inupiaq words for the boat parts. Ellanna said that Padilla didn’t want to build the kayak without the guidance of a King Island elder, so Kawerak helped to make the connection with Pikonganna.
Though Ellanna is not sure if the kayak will be covered in skin or not, it will reside at the entrance of the cultural center, “right when you walk through the door,” she said proudly.
Wells Fargo, Bering Straits Native Corporation and the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation paid for supplies and the cost of the instructors. Sitnasuak Native Corporation helped Kawerak include Pikonganna in the project.