LAPWAI, Idaho (AP) – Wood chips were flying as fourth- and fifth-grade Lapwai Elementary students helped carve a traditional canoe.
Nez Perce Tribe member Julian Matthews organized the evening carving session to instill a sense of culture in the youngsters. About 30 kids helped bite out chunks of the canoe's interior with shaped axes or shaved off lumber for future paddles.
Matthews said he and several others started the process of carving out the canoe in a traditional fashion in July. The thick fir that will one day float nearby rivers was felled in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and hauled down behind Nimiipuu Health, where Matthews and tribal members from Kalispell, Mont., as well as friend and carpenter James Jameson, set to work.
Jameson identified the heavy side of the fir by floating it in water and finding an equilibrium.
Matthews said it was almost comical seeing Jameson knee-deep in water and rotating the 23-foot log to find just the right side. The wide log had a large growth on one side that caused issues when lopping off an edge, but by the time the bark was shaved off and shaping had begun, the previously crooked-looking piece of lumber was straight and ready for carving.
Jameson said he then began cutting striations to mark the future canoe's midpoints. He and several volunteers try to meet every Wednesday and use adzes - scooped axes - to carve out the interior of the canoe.
“We shaved off about 2 inches at first to see the curve,” Jameson said. “We rolled it onto the heavy side and once it was flat you could see how level it is.”
The work started in the heat of July, and finding volunteers to carve in the sometimes 100-degree weather was difficult, Matthews said. But the progress shows, and the log has a smooth interior carved out.
He said he'd like to see the canoe be used functionally, but it is his first foray into carving a canoe.
“There's a couple canoes down at the (city) park that are like 110 years old,” Matthews said. “We got it set up and the tribe gave us some money to get it going. I'd like to see us keep doing it, maybe working with a cedar next time.”
Matthews said he reached out to Lapwai Elementary teachers to get the children involved and engage them in a project that is ingrained in their heritage as much as the tree rings are embedded in the log.
“We really wanted to get the kids involved and they seem to be enjoying it,” he said.
For 10-year-old Andraeana Domebo, the fun is in getting covered in wood shavings and throwing a little elbow grease into carving.
“I like it. It's fun. I like playing in the dirt,” Domebo said. “I want to be a tough worker, and then maybe a teacher or maybe a principal.”
Teacher Beau Woodford said the kids have been fondly looking forward to participating. The kids are lumbering through the process as part of an after-school project.
“They're loving it; they just love it,” he said. “We'd like to get the kids back out and doing this again in the spring.”
Matthews said it likely will be several more weeks before the canoe is finished. The wood needs to be soaked, shaped and burned to gain its bend before it is water-worthy. He said about four people at most are carving on the canoe each Wednesday, and it should be completed relatively soon.
“We want it to be functional,” Matthews said. “I'm really looking forward to doing the designs on the outside, once we get there.”
He said he plans on creating a cultural area behind Nimiipuu Health, where the canoe will be stationed once it's finished.
“Everyone's invited to come check it out,” he said.
Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com