As Hōkūleʻa re-enters the Polynesian Triangle on the last legs of her Worldwide Voyage, we take a moment to celebrate earlier voyages and the crew who helped her find her way. Aboard Hōkūleʻa on this leg to Tahiti is crewmember Joey Mallott. In 2000, Joey voyaged from Tahiti to Hawaiʻi and documenter Sam Low interviewed him to produce this blog.
“When I was younger, I fished with my Dad every summer,” says Joey Mallott. “We went power-trolling for salmon and long-lining for halibut in the Gulf of Alaska. It was a lot of hard work and long hours. The waters were rough and cold. We also fished for Coho salmon in the Inside Passage. Sometimes the water was mild and we would nest up with other boats in an isolated cove, cook dinner, tell stories. In the morning we woke up surrounded by an almost undisturbed wilderness. It was beautiful.”
The Inside Passage is a legendary waterway – often violent and extremely dangerous, about which author Jonathan Rabin wrote this in his recent book, Passage to Juneau: “The water on which the northwest coast Indians lived their daily lives was full of danger and disorder; seething white through rocky passages, liable to turn violent at the first hint of a contrary wind, plagued with fierce and deceptive currents. The whirlpool – capable of ingesting a whole cedar tree, and then spitting it out again like a cherry pit – was a central symbol of the sea at large, and all its terrors.”
Joey was born in Anchorage, Alaska on June 2nd, 1977 to Byron and Toni Mallott. Through his father, he was also born into the Killer Whale clan of the Eagle moiety of the Tlingit Nation and through his mother into an Athabaskan group of people – more specifically the Koyukon Tribe who lived in the interior of Alaska on the Yukon River.
Joey’s father, Byron Mallott, is well known among his people. He was born in a time when you saw signs posted which said “No Indians and Dogs Allowed.”
“From a young age, my dad was motivated by a strong desire to help his people,” Joey says, “because he saw a lot of pain among them and the problems of poverty, alcoholism and high rates of illness and early death. He worked hard all his life. When he was only 18 he captained a 56 foot schooner from Washington to Yakutat on the inland passage.”
Growing up on this difficult ocean, Byron Mallott learned early to be determined to reach his goals, either at sea or on land among his people. As a young man of only 34, he was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Sealaska Corporation, which manages a huge tract of land belonging to native Alaskans, and he used funds from this enterprise to help lift his people from poverty and depression. Joey Mallott lived with his grandmother as a boy, where he learned many of the same values that have motivated his father.
“The day I arrived in her village,” Joey says of this experience, “my grandmother handed me a 4/10 gauge shotgun and told me to get dinner. She taught me how to hunt, fish and trap, and to live and survive in the outdoors; but more important, her lessons were about patience and kindness and about being open to everyone you meet.”
Joey graduated from elementary school and high school in Juneau, Alaska and went on to earn his Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at the University of the Pacific in 1999.
In 1991, Nainoa first traveled to Juneau to meet with Byron Mallott to discuss receiving the gift of two giant spruce trees from the Sealaska Corporation to build voyaging canoe Hawaiʻiloa. The two men became fast friends which led to a joining of the Thompson and Mallott families which Joey describes as “one single family.”
When Pinky Thompson asked Nainoa to choose an Alaskan representative to journey on at least one leg of the voyage to Rapa Nui, Joey was offered the position. “I got the call in 1998,” Joey remembers, “and I knew right off that I wanted to go.”
The experience of being involved with building Hawaiʻiloa and voyaging aboard Hōkūleʻa has allowed Joey a deep insight into Hawaiian culture. “I think there’s a great deal of similarity between any indigenous culture and how we view the world. That’s why Hawaiians and Native Alaskans share so many values. We both respect our elders and believe in taking care of our environment, for example, and we’re motivated to recover our native traditions and pride and to bring back our sense of community.”
The above moʻolelo was written by Hōkūleʻa crewmember and documenter Sam Low, author of Hawaiki Rising, Hokule’a, Nainoa Thompson and the Hawaiian Renaissance.