GHD Foundation supports reintroduction of long-lost Indigenous boat building technique

GHD Foundation supports reintroduction of long-lost Indigenous boat building technique

February 21, 2024

It was over two centuries ago when Russia invaded the Aleutian Islands to exploit the rich homeland of the Unangax̂ people. This Native tribe tried to escape their invaders by using nigilax̂– large, open, skin boats built to withstand ocean travel. The Unangax̂ were unsuccessful in escaping their captors who destroyed the boats before they could seek refuge elsewhere. Since then, the construction and use of the nigilax̂ has nearly been lost. Unangax̂ People, along with local Indigenous tribal members, are now reclaiming the construction of the treasured nigilax̂ with the help of the DreamMaker Program.

The Wiyot Tribe, local to the Humboldt Bay region, is supportive of the project and the efforts of MakeAccess to provide the learning opportunity for local Indigenous peoples to build a nigilax̂ together. Participants have been invited on Wiyot traditional lands alongside Unangax̂ instructors, advisors and other participants for the boat’s assembly.

The nigilax̂ are an example of early boat-making engineering. The participating Indigenous builders will learn a variety of hands-on skills and gain knowledge that may inspire them to seek other educational opportunities in STEAM-related fields. The boat will be used for environmental and educational purposes on Humboldt Bay, at Fort Ross in Sonoma County and at inter-tribal gatherings in the Puget Sound and Inside Passage of the Northwest.

“This project brings the entire community together to celebrate the history of Native people, using a 9000-year-old example of the art of engineering to recreate a boat that will continue to be used by future generations to explore Humboldt Bay,” remarked Iver Skavdal, GHD Foundation Officer and retired GHD executive and Humboldt County resident. “This is a great way to attract people from all backgrounds to the value of STEAM education and employment opportunities.”

The GHD Foundation’s contribution to the MakeAccess Iqyax̂ Apprenticeships DreamMaker Project aligns with the Foundation’s initiative to fund outcome-driven STEAM education and employment programs that widen participation to underrepresented communities, while supporting its belief that cohesive communities are self-determined and the role that restoration of cultures and practices plays in healing and reconciliation is vital.

Ink People Center for the Arts DreamMaker Program supports over 70 self-directing projects created by people who want to make their community a better place through arts and culture.