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Sturgeon-nose canoe follows ancient trail down Kettle River

By Brenda Starkey Ferry County View

Two weekends ago, Shelly Boyd and six others came to Curlew, Washington, to travel the Kettle River to Danville by canoe.

Boyd and Bobbie Mollenburg paddled a Salishan Sturgeon Nose Canoe. The canoe was so named because the pointed ends resemble the head of a sturgeon.

Boyd said the river was the highway of the Sinixt people – the Arrow Lake band – whose ancestral land straddled what is now the U.S.-Canadian border.

About 80 percent of that territory was north of the border while 20 percent was to the south, Boyd said. When the tribes were moved to the south half of Ferry County, that ancestral land was lost. And when the dams were built the landscape changed completely.

The canoe is a lightweight vessel made for fast-moving water.

It

is 16 feet long and weighs between 30-40 pounds.

The tribes have also recreated dug-out canoes, each carved from a cedar log.

A contemporary interpretation of the traditional canoe frame and skin attachment method was developed by Dr. Shawn Brigman in 2013.

Brigman is a descendant of northern Plateau bands – Sinixt, San Poil and Shuswap – and conducted a 10-day workshop in 2016 with adult Salish language learners from the Inchelium Language and Culture Association at which the canoe was built.

Boyd was a part of the Inchelium Language and Culture Association, which she said has turned out to be involved with a lot more than just language. It is also about the culture of the native people through the history of the area. Brigman is the one who brought back the technology, Boyd said.

“He’s brilliant,” she said. “When you see the sturgeon-nose canoe, it speaks to the technology of the people of that time.”

Boyd walked the Ferry County Rail Trail with local history buff Madilane Perry a week prior to bringing the canoe to the north half. They discussed how the river itself was the trail of Boyd’s ancestors for thousands of years.

Ferry County Rail Trail Partners president Bobby Whittaker floated the river with Boyd’s group in a modern kayak.

“It was an incredible day,” Whittaker said of the canoe and kayak trip, adding that they witnessed several eagles near the tunnel.

Boyd said her original idea was to travel the Kettle in a historic dugout canoe, but first she brought the sturgeon-nose canoe.

At this point, she’s not sure if river conditions will permit the dugout canoe to navigate the Kettle this year, but maybe in the spring when the water is deeper.

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