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‘​​It's opened up a lot of friendships’: Niĝilax̂ workshop focused on community as boat construction continues

A niĝilax̂-building workshop that started last month in Ferndale, California, is on track to finish a traditional Unangax̂ boat by the end of March.

The project is part of Make Access Iqyax Apprenticeships, a nonprofit program led by Marc Daniels, who builds and restores Aleutian sea kayaks in the traditional style. KUCB’s Kanesia McGlashan-Price, of Unalaska, is training with Daniels as part of the workshop.

KUCB’s Sofia Stuart-Rasi spoke with Daniels and McGlashan-Price recently for an update on the community-led effort to construct the 27-foot boat.


MARC DANIELS: It is a community project. Among its stated goals, in addition to actually completing a vessel, are to bridge communities. And before we got started, we made sure we went to the local tribe down here on this land, the Wiyot Tribe. And we went to them and asked for permission to continue with a project like this on their lands, and they embraced it, gave us their permission and actually have gotten involved with us. It's opened up a lot of friendships. And so, when I say it's a community project, it's to bridge all the elements of our community. So we have, you know, the non-Native community here, we have the local Native community, and then we have all of the Unangax̂ people from up north and those who are living in this region down here. Some of them are on their way, driving from their homes to here. And everybody's going to work for the amount of time that they can — I don't know, take off from school and work and whatever. So it's kind of fluctuating. The community comes and goes, and everyone's welcome. We just had two people come into the shop this morning and they were wanting to know how to get involved, and I said, ‘Well, just show up. Show up, and there's probably going to be something to do, and we'll just put you to work.’ And so that's how it works. And when their hands are busy tying lashings or brushing oil onto the frame or whatever is going on — when the hands are busy, that's when people can get to know each other.

KUCB: How many people are working on the project?

KANESIA MCGLASHAN-PRICE: We have a steady crew of about five people that come in, hang out regularly. And we usually work like Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 kind of deal. Sometimes we're in the shop. Sometimes we're on the beach, collecting wood, looking for pieces that might fit our niĝilax̂. But yeah, we have a solid crew, and then we have volunteers, or other guests that come by the shop and just want to check it out. And maybe, you know, worked on it for a couple of hours. So, it's pretty flexible. Some people show up every day, some people just when they have time.

KUCB: How's the build going?

DANIELS: So far, the build is going great. We have had some delays, due to materials not arriving on the barge and being shipped down on time. But we've kind of rolled with the punches and actually have a friend, Thomas, out here on the Lost Coast, who has a mill. There were some Douglas fir trees — that's the kind of tree that grows down here — that had been cut down to clear for power transmission lines. So, we had these downed trees. And we picked one out and dragged it up onto the mill and turned it into the planks we needed to create the keel for the vessel so we could keep going.

KUCB: Where is the niĝilax̂ being built?

DANIELS: The niĝilax̂ is being built right in my workshop, and I'll describe what it's like. Okay, we're in an old Victorian building, right on Main Street in this little town. It's a main street town and so you walk in off the street. You're in the coffee house or the coffee lounge, as we call it. And then the back wall of this little coffee lounge is a wall of windows that look into the boat shop, which is directly attached. And so you walk through a door, and you're right there at the niĝilax̂. The boat shop is about 40 feet long and seems really big until you're building a 27-foot niĝilax̂ in it. And then it seems like it's taking up the whole space. And it's been a dance, working on the parts and moving them out of the way and all of that. But it smells really great. You know, when you walk in, you smell baked goods and coffee mixed with the smells of, you know, fresh milled woods. You know, fir and some redwood and some coast cypress. It smells — it just smells great.

This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

Make Access Iqyax Apprenticeships is hosting an open house to share the nigilax̂-building process with visitors on March 11 from 1 to 8 p.m. The event is open to the public and will include music, food, and a hands-on workshop. More information is available here.

Sofia was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She’s reported around the U.S. for local public radio stations, NPR and National Native News. Sofia has a Master of Arts in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism from the University of Montana, a graduate certificate in Documentary Studies from the Salt Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Arts from the University of Colorado Boulder. In between her studies, Sofia was a ski bum in Telluride, Colorado for a few years.
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