Qayaqs and Canoes

Traditional Indigenous Watercraft of Alaska

From the Introduction to Qayaqs and Canoes: Native Ways of Knowing by Jan Steinbright, Alaska Native Heritage Center, 2001:

Alaska Natives are people of the tides, the rivers, and the sea: maritime people. The salt and fresh waters brought food and supplies to them and provided thoroughfares for travel by boat. For centuries, their ancestors constructed watercraft to meet the moods and challenges of the southeastern coastal passages, the open oceans of the southwest and west, and the swift rivers of the Interior and north.

Before European contact, skin-covered kayaks and open angyapiks and umiaks were used in Alaska by all of the northern groups: the Aleuts [Unangax] of the Aleutian Chain; the Alutiiqs [Sugpiat] of Kodiak Island archipelago, Prince William Sound and outer Kenai Peninsula; the Iñupiat; Central Yup'ik; Siberian Yupik and Cup'ik.

In the Interior, bark- and skin-covered canoes answered the need for water transportation. Dugout canoes carved from a single log were the main mode of transportation in southeast Alaska.

Learn about and see these traditional watercraft, all created at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage during the summer of 2000 as part of a special project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, Save America's Treasures, and Institute of Museum and Library Services.