Yakutat holds welcoming ceremony for Hawaiian voyaging canoe, Hokulea

Published: Jun. 2, 2023 at 11:41 AM AKDT
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YAKUTAT, ALASKA (Hawaii News Now) - The Hawaiian voyaging canoe, Hokulea, and its crew are getting ready to embark on a four-year, Pacific-wide journey, known as Moananuiakea.

Before starting the Moananuiakea journey, the Hokulea left her homeport of Honolulu, in April, aboard a container ship bound for Yakutat, Alaska for a ‘heritage sail’.

Only 600 people live in Yakutat and the only way to get there is by plane or boat.

According to Mahealani Richardson of Hawaii News Now, “This is the first voyage to Alaska for the Hokulea and the farthest north the Hawaiian voyaging canoe has ever been.”

You are probably wondering what is the connection between Hawaii and Alaska.

The ‘heritage sail’ that started in Yakutat was to say thank you to indigenous communities in Alaska especially to the family of business, political, cultural leader, and Yakutat native Byron Mallott, who passed away three years ago. A friendship began more than 30 years ago when Mallott donated two spruce trees to the Polynesian Voyaging Society based in Hawaii. The trees were used to build a Hawaiian canoe made completely out of traditional and indigenous materials.

Mallott’s family joined the crew on Hokulea with the Polynesian Voyaging Society President and PWO Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson, to honor him and carry his spirit on the voyage.

This was the first time the town of Yakutat had offered a traditional welcome for a canoe in more than 100 years.

It took about a half an hour to sail from Mallott’s house to the dock at the Yakutat Boat Harbor.

“I would just say how do you describe when you are overcome with a lot of emotions, a lot of happiness, and a lot of memories of the connection,” said Mallott’s widow, Toni Mallott.

Moananuiakea voyager and granddaughter of Byron Mallott, Martha Mallott, respectively stated, “There is so much about Uncle Nainoa that reminds us of our grandpa in a way like he is still with us.” Martha added, “In a way this is a the homecoming. We are bringing my grandpa home in Uncle Nainoa.”

“We wanted to make sure that we honored him, Byron Mallott and his Ohana on board,” said Hokulea crew member Chris Blake. “It was an amazing opportunity to be up here with their family.”

Thompson said the trek to Yakutat was about keeping a promise to a dear friend. “We made a commitment to bring the canoe even though we didn’t know how to do it.”

It was 48 degrees with wind chills into the 30s when Kokulea left the dock at Yakutat Bay, headed to Sandy Beach for the special welcoming ceremony.

Hokulea's arrival allows Alaska natives to practice protocol not seen in 100+ years.
Hokulea's arrival allows Alaska natives to practice protocol not seen in 100+ years.(Hawaii News Now)

Hawaii News Now describes the welcoming ceremony, courtesy Hawaii News Now.

Close to shore, members of the Geniex Kwaan Clan began the ceremony protocol by asking who has come to shore.

From shore Yakutat elder Victor Demmert called out, ”We ask you, who are you?”

“We are the Hawaiian people who are here,” responded Chris Blake, Hokulea crew member.

Once granted permission, the crew took a traditional canoe to the beach.

Thompson led the way with a traditional paddle.

On land, there was a coming together of Hawaiian and Alaska Natives to celebrate the historical migration and settlement ties between the two cultures during the 1800s.

“I still can’t believe that we are here and all this time that we put into this canoe to be here. It’s worth it. Everything is coming together,” said Hokulea crew member Kanako Uchino Dumaran.

Then, there was a gift of blankets, symbolic of the warmth enveloping the crew.

The last canoe arrival to Yakutat’s shores was around 1900 so Hokulea has given these Alaska Natives an opportunity to practice this welcoming ceremony for the first time in more than a century.

“It’s an honor to us and I’m so happy. We’ve been looking forward to this. I’m so happy,” said Demmert.

“Voyaging to Yakutat brings warmth, reconnection with family, and preparing for a 4-year voyage that inspires future generations about healing the earth,” said Thompson.