Shovelnose canoes once again journey the Columbia River

July 28, 2016
Bill Holm Center
Canoes arriving at the Kettle Falls site on the Columbia River.

Canoes arriving at Kettle Falls site on the Columbia River.
Photo: Burke Museum

The Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) led a groundbreaking project to reestablish traditional dugout canoe culture among their five Inland Northwest member tribes and bring them together in celebration at Kettle Falls, an ancient fishing site on the Columbia River.

In July 2015, UCUT purchased six old growth cedar logs—some up to 800 years old, 40-feet long, and 28,000 pounds—and donated them to the Colville, Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, Kalispel, and Kootenai tribes in Washington and Idaho to be carved. 

The completed dugout canoes on the shore of Kettle Falls.

The completed dugout canoes on the shore of Kettle Falls.
Photo: Burke Museum

The tribes carved shovelnose canoes, dugout canoes with a flat base and horizontal prow and stern extending from the gunwales. Shovelnose canoes were once commonly paddled along the Columbia River for transportation, but few have been made since the mid-19th century due to the construction of dams and the loss of traditional gathering sites among other reasons.

Arrival of the dugout canoes at Kettle Falls.

Arrival of the dugout canoes at Kettle Falls. 
Photo: Burke Museum

The Burke Museum’s Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Native Art awarded a grant to UCUT for their work to help complete the final months of the canoe preparation in time for the journey and celebration. In addition, several Burke Museum staff members were involved in carving portions of the Kalispel canoe. 

(L-R) UCUT Project Consultant John Zinser, BHC Staffer Justin McCarthy, and paddler/carver Nathan Pinkham help guide the landing the Kalispel shovelnose canoe

(L-R) UCUT Project Consultant John Zinser, BHC Staffer Justin McCarthy, and paddler/carver Nathan Piengkham help guide the landing the Kalispel shovelnose canoe.
Photo: Burke Museum

The historic project led to the revitalization of this style of canoe within the Plateau communities and culminated with a canoe journey to Kettle Falls, an ancient fishing site on the Columbia River. Hundreds of people gathered for the Colville Tribe’s Salmon Ceremony on June 18, 2016.

It is estimated that this was the first time in eighty years that the tribes had gathered together by canoe at Kettle Falls. The gathering advocated for salmon passage on the Upper Columbia River, environmental awareness, and the revitalization of the traditional and ancestral dugout canoe culture in the region. 

Hundreds gather to welcome the canoes and paddlers at Kettle Falls.

Hundreds gather to welcome the canoes and paddlers at Kettle Falls.
Photo: Burke Museum

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