Meet the Builders

Behind each of the boats are talented artists who bring their own traditions and innovations to life.
Meet the artists of Dań Kwanje ’Á–Nààn!

Spruce Dugout Canoe

Wayne Price

Justin Smith
Seal Skin Qayaq

Kiliii Yüyan

Moose Skin Boat

Learn about the history of the Moose Skin Boat »

Doug Smarch Sr.

Doug Smarch Sr. is a respected Elder from the Inland Tlingit community of Teslin, Yukon of the Dakhl’awèdí (Eagle) Clan. Doug has over 20 years experience as a traditional builder and is known for his handcrafted Teslin Tlingit-style snowshoes, cedar canoes, sleighs, and freighter canoes. He uses birch wood for snowshoe frames and caribou and moose babiche for the filling. Doug also has significant experience building moose skin boats, having watched his parents and Elders build them in years past. He remembers travelling in large moose skin boats on the rivers and lakes around Teslin as a child.

Doug Smarch Jr.

Doug Smarch Jr. is a member of the Kùkhhittàn (Raven) Clan of Teslin. His childhood was enriched with the innovation and utilization of the natural environment practiced by his parents Doug and Jane Smarch. From a young age he was taught to cherish all available materials and to respect all things living and inanimate, setting the foundation for finding value and story in many places. He is a master carver and sculptor who learned traditional stone, bone, and wood carving under the watchful eyes of family and community artisans.

Father and son are looking forward to working together on this project. Doug Jr. says: “Moose skin boats are amazing watercraft ~ constructed of materials readily available to those who know how to hunt, gather and utilize the resources of our northern home. They are portable, durable and large enough to carry adults, kids, dogs, food and all the other requirements of a family living on the land.”

John Peters Jr.

John Peters Jr. was born into the Kùkhhittàn Clan to John Peters Sr. and Annie Johnston in Teslin, Yukon. John spent most of his life outdoors learning the land, hunting, and camping along the river. He watched his father, who worked in a canoe factory in Teslin, make canoes as he was growing up. In 1996, John took part in creating a Dance Blanket that is proudly displayed in his home community. John was selected by Richard Sidney to participate in the Vision Quest where he canoed from Hazelton to Victoria in a canoe made only by Clan women. John learned great carving skills under Master carvers Alex Dickson and Keith Wolf-Smarch.

Birch Bark Canoe

Learn about the history of the Birch Bark Canoe »

Halin De Repentigny

Halin De Repentigny was born in Montreal in 1959. He began to paint at the age of ten when a friend gave him a few old tubes of paint. He copied a Greek village scene from a book, which sold for $75 to the owner of the Greek restaurant where his mother worked as a waitress. From that moment he decided to be a painter and to make art the focus of his life.

Halin moved to the Gaspé in 1976 and there he saw a Miqmaq canoe maker named Albert Condo at work on a beautiful canoe. His passion for birch bark canoe making was born. After relocating to the Yukon in 1982, Halin spent many years on the land trapping, travelling and learning about traditional First Nations technology. He painted iconic Yukon scenes of the winter landscapes that surrounded him and his trapping lifestyle.

After many years of self-directed study, Halin built his first birch bark canoe in 1997, together with his daughter Madeline, who is a member of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. Halin has made a birch bark canoe almost every year since then, gaining more knowledge and skill with each one. His canoes are now on display throughout the Yukon, and one is at a hotel in Zell, Germany. In 2002, Halin retraced the 1840s travel routes of Hudson’s Bay Company trader Robert Campbell from the headwaters of the Pelly River down the Yukon River to Dawson City in a hand made 32-foot birch bark canoe.

Halin is also an acclaimed artist with paintings held in national and international collections. His paintings depict life in Canada’s Klondike, interpreting the beauty and majesty of the remote northern wilderness on canvas. His work has a layered glass effect, producing tension and drama, which is highlighted by tonal contrasts accentuating the vibrancy of colour. For Halin, “… painting is like talking. I speak four different languages and painting is the only one where I don’t make a fool of myself.” Halin believes both his paintings and his canoe making are intrinsic facets of his artistic expression.

Halin says: “These northern birch bark canoes are among the most elegant watercraft in the world – technically difficult to construct from all natural materials, feather light to carry and beautiful to see gliding swiftly on the water.”

Joe Migwams

Joe Migwams is an Anishnabe artist, traditional arts facilitator, drum maker, and a Wolf Clan member. He came to the Yukon in 1988 from Manitoulin Island and has learned traditional skills from Yukon First Nations Elders. Joe spent time with Southern Tutchone, Northern Tutchone and Tlingit Elders learning stories, and making drums, snowshoes and traditional medicines.

Spruce Dugout Canoe

Learn about the history of the Srpuce Dugout Canoe »

Wayne Price

Wayne Price was born in the Tlingit village of Kake, Alaska and spent his childhood in Haines, Alaska apprenticing with Tlingit carvers and artists. At the age of twelve Wayne became a Gei-Sun Dancer learning to perform traditional Tlingit songs and dances. He started carving as well, drawn by the healing power of his Tlingit art traditions and the majesty of the tall trees that supply wood for his art. Carvers Ed Kasko and Leo Jacobs were his first mentors in traditional wood and silver carving. In 1982 Wayne carved his first traditional Tlingit dugout river canoe, intrigued by his ancestors’ ability to travel the river and ocean.

Since 1982 Wayne has carved ten dugout canoes, including Awakening Spirits in 2009, a 30-foot red cedar dugout with Yukon First Nations youth at the Sundog Carving Program. The dugout was competed and paddled up the Yukon River into Whitehorse where it is on display at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. Wayne also led the group of carvers who produced the Healing Totem Pole that stands beside the train depot on the waterfront ~ a tribute to all who experienced losses through residential school trauma. In 2016 Wayne designed and carved two 40-foot traditional dugout canoes for the dedication of the new Hoonah clan house in Glacier Bay. His canoes are on display in many museums, including one in Hokaido, Japan. Others are used on the water by his North Tide Canoe Kwaan group for tribal journeys and gatherings.

As a master carver and design artist Wayne creates art for public spaces and private collectors. His work is esteemed for its exquisite quality and exemplary use of traditional Alaska Native form line design. Wayne has carved and restored dozens of traditional totem poles and totemic sculptures throughout Southeast Alaska. Prominent in Wayne’s career is his work with students and apprentices in Alaska and the Yukon, instructing the next generations in form line design and carving.

Wayne says: “A traditional dugout glides through the water and is designed to work organically with ocean and river currents. The ancestors knew what they were doing. It allows for journeys on the ocean and on swift river water. Its sturdy construction makes it capable of withstanding waves and winds. For thousands of years our ancestors relied on the cedar and spruce to create beautiful vessels for transport and inspiration.”

Justin Smith

Justin Smith is a member of the Wolf clan of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and comes from an artistic family. He draws on his mother Ann Smith’s Tutchone and Tlingit roots and his father Brian Walker’s passion for traditional watercraft. His work reflects originality and a lightness of spirit from traditional values of honouring the land. He studied at the Institute of American Indian Art and Freda Diesling School of Northwest Coast Art.

Seal Skin Qayaq

Learn about the history of the Seal Skin Qayaq »

Kiliii Yüyan

Kiliii Yüyan is descended from Nanai people of northern Siberia and Han Chinese. He grew up in the US at a distance from his culture’s traditions, but remained connected through his Nanai grandmother. Her stories fueled a desire to reclaim his Indigenous identity by learning to live close to the natural world.

He has spent the last 15 years exploring the traditional skills of Nanai and other Native culture, including wilderness subsistence and traditional kayak-building. It’s led him to documenting the stories of modern Indigenous peoples around the world, from urban communities to remote villages in the Arctic. Those communities have shown him what it is to see the land through Indigenous eyes.

Kiliii has spent a lot of time with traditional kayak-using communities of the North, learning the skills of building qayaqs and umiaqs. Now he designs skin-on-frame kayaks for the modern paddler and helps return the traditional knowledge of the kayak to its original communities. He has built over 600 kayaks with students.

Log Raft

Paddy Jim

Paddy Jim is a Champagne and Aishihik First Nation Elder. He has built numerous rafts over the years, having spent a long life on the land and waters of the Yukon. He is an expert guide, hunter and cultural teacher who devotes many hours to passing on this traditional knowledge and language to people in our communities.

Copper Canoe

Brian Walker

Brian Walker Born in Montreal, Brian moved to B.C. and at age 12 met Bill Reid, who invited him to his carving studio to learn about West Coast design. This sparked a lifelong passion for First Nations art and culture. Brian moved to the Yukon in 1969, met his wife Ann Smith and embarked on a wide range of artistic pursuits including filmmaking, woodcarving, bronze casting and boat building. He has worked with Dempsey Bob, Keith Wolfe Smarch, Philip Janze, Mark Porter and many others involved in the revival of First Nations carving in the Yukon.

Brian became interested in copper as an artistic medium because of its connections to Yukon First Nations history and its potential in terms of technique and scale. Experimenting with the ancient techniques of chasing and repousée, he created pieces that reflect his artistic skills and passion for sharing the stories of Yukon First Nations people. He has developed his art practice by producing gifts and ceremonial objects, sharing his knowledge through teaching, and participating in collaborative projects. His work is included in the Yukon Permanent Art Collection and the Yukon Arts Centre collection, along with many private and public commissions. He worked with Keith Wolfe Smarch and Mark Porter on a copper, bronze and steel sculpture entitled Where Legends Meet, created for the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre in 1998. Brian participated in the Journey project at the 2014 Adäka Festival, a gathering of senior carvers from B.C., Alaska, Yukon and New Zealand. In 2015 one of Walker’s copper sculptures was selected as a prize for the Arctic Inspiration Award. Ann and Brian received the Cultural Steward Award from the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association in 2015. Recognized as a senior artist within his adoptive First Nation of Kwanlin Dün, he contributes to youth carving programs at the Northern Cultural Expressions Society. Ann and Brian are the centre of their large family. As Elders of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, they work tirelessly to promote and preserve Yukon First Nations culture, sharing their knowledge for the benefit of present and future generations.