The Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives exhibit, Our Stories Woven Through Time, is the third collaboration between the Museum and the Squamish Nation. Matthew Lovegrove, curator at the Museum, worked with Alison Pascal, curator at the Lil’wat Cultural Centre, to highlight the importance of weaving in Squamish culture. “I really wanted to continue the tradition of working with the Squamish Nation,” says Lovegrove. “We want to educate people about the deep heritage of the Squamish people.”
After the first two exhibits had focussed on the domain of men—tools and canoe building—weaving was chosen as an opportunity to showcase a specialty of the women in Squamish society. “The blankets are a representation of spiritual protection, a symbol of love, a symbol of wealth,” says Pascal. “We wanted to show the value and meaning behind them.” Rather than objects of everyday use, blankets in Coast Salish culture are used for special events and ceremonies. Traditionally, the blankets were made from a blend of mountain goat fur, plant fibres, and down. “The making of the blankets was such a long process, not everyone could afford to do it so not everyone had a blanket,” says Pascal “In our community our wealth is not in the physical and material things we own. It’s all of the gifts we can offer others, so to be able to give away a blanket meant your family was really wealthy.”
Hereditary Chief Janice George and her partner William “Buddy” Joseph are largely credited with bringing weaving back into prominence in the Squamish Nation. “The weaving process was dormant for about 60 years,” explains Pascal. “The whole learning cycle of master and apprentice was broken when First Nations children were sent to residential schools.” Chief George learned traditional weaving methods from teachers she found in Washington State, returning those skills to the people of Squamish where it’s flourishing. The Lil’wat Centre has looms available and a youth training program offers opportunities to try out different traditional crafts. It’s been an uplifting experience for the community, especially elders. “Living through the residential school era where everything was taken from you, it’s really meaningful to see things coming back to you,” says Pascal.
On Feb. 11 Pascal will be at the Museum to give a curator’s talk on weaving, introducing Squamish Nation and some of their stories. “I’m really excited to have Alison come down and talk,” says Lovegrove. “She’s a wealth of knowledge and very engaging.”
Our Stories Woven Through Time runs through May 2017. Alison Pascal and Raquel Joe, curator at Tems Swiya in Sechelt, will be giving a talk and demo on Coast Salish weaving Saturday, Feb. 11 from 1-3pm at the Sunshine Coast Museum. Admission by donation. More information at sunshinecoastmuseum.ca