Two weavers stop Salish tradition from ‘slipping into history’ – British Columbia

Hereditary chief Janice George and Buddy Joseph, both from the Squamish Nation, learned to weave blankets in the Salish tradition nearly 15 years ago and are now trying to spread their knowledge as far and wide as possible.

The pair run weaving workshops and recently published a book about the art and its history in the coastal First Nations, called Salish Blankets: Robes of Protection and Transformation, Symbols of Wealth.

As soon as they started to learn about weaving they were aware they would one day be teaching it to others, Joseph told CBC’s host of North by Northwest, Sheryl MacKay.

“We knew we were going to be teachers right from the beginning,” he said. “At the time, we had one weaver in our community so we could definitely see this craft as slipping into history.”

So far, George and Joseph have shared their knowledge with more than 2,500 students and taught throughout the Salish-speaking territory.

Janice George and Buddy Joseph

Hereditary chief Janice George and Buddy Joseph with weaving students. (L’hen Awtxw Weaving House )

‘Story of survival’

Preserving the knowledge and preventing it from disappearing was a driving motivation behind the work they’ve done, George said, and it’s not just a matter of teaching the techniques. Sharing the history behind the weaving is equally important.

“We love sharing the story of it,” George said. “It’s a huge story of survival and thriving.”

She said that in her lifetime, she has seen the numbers of weavers dwindle and then pick up again.

“It was like a collective sponge, everybody sucked up that information and now it’s just flourishing,” George said. “It makes us so proud.”

Janice George teaching

Hereditary chief Janice George teaching a weaving class. ( L’hen Awtxw Weaving House)

Power of weaving

Both George and Joseph said weaving is crucial because it connects the community to their ancestors and helps give a sense of identity. George recalled the time she was asked to model from an old Capilano blanket in preparation for a display.

“I actually felt the hands of the ancestors on me, just holding me up all around me,” she said.”They could have lifted me and I could have floated away. It was just so powerful but a gentle power.”

Buddy Joseph

Buddy Joseph helping a student. (L’hen Awtxw Weaving House)

Joseph said the power comes from the energy put into the fabric by the weaver, and weaving is a way to pass on that energy to the next generation. 

“If you are doing a robe or blanket, you are spending a lot of time. Our breath is on it, our prayers and perspiration on it,” he said. “It is what helps us identify who we are and where we’ve come from.”

The pair are continuing their journey of sharing the art and history of Salish weaving and are now heading to Santa Fe where George will be the artist-in-residence at the Institute of American Indian Arts for September.

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio link below:

With files from North by Northwest

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