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Squamish Nation hereditary chief Janice George (r) and her husband Buddy Joseph display a traditional Coast Salish woven wool blanket, one of several commissioned to decorate the atrium of the new Arts and Social Sciences building.
Squamish Nation hereditary chief Janice George (r) and her husband Buddy Joseph display a traditional Coast Salish woven wool blanket, one of several commissioned to decorate the atrium of the new Arts and Social Sciences building.

Weaving a cultural renaissance

March 19, 2009

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For centuries, Coast Salish artists wove exquisite wool blankets, robes, tunics and other items their people used and traded with other aboriginal nations to be used for spiritual, ceremonial and political occasions.

But traditional weaving suffered after colonization and had almost disappeared in the Squamish Nation until hereditary chief Janice George and her husband Buddy Joseph sparked a major revival about six years ago.

Today, thanks to their efforts, more than 120 weavers are working in their community and beyond, hundreds more are learning the craft, and countless future students will be able to access lessons on DVD and the Internet.

On March 27, SFU will share in the renaissance when the traditional artists unveil the weavings they created for the Burnaby campus’ new "Aboriginal Gathering Place" in the Arts and Social Sciences Complex (ASSC 1) atrium. George and Joseph’s protégés at the Squamish L’hen Awtxw Weaving House wove the intricate wall hangings using their designs based on oral and written histories of Burnaby Mountain.

The pair’s passion for historical weaving began in 2003 when George tried to buy a woven tunic on display at a First Nations gathering in Washington State. "The weaver said, ‘Well, I could sell it to you—or I could teach you for the same amount of money’," recalls Joseph. "That was our defining moment. Jan asked me if I was interested and I said ‘absolutely’, and the rest is history."

For Joseph, the rebirth of weaving in part represents following in the footsteps of his late father, who helped to rekindle the vanishing art of West Coast aboriginal woodcarving in the mid-1960s. Today, collectors around the world prize Haida and Coast Salish sculptures.

For George, the revival is a spiritual tribute to her ancestors, particularly her grandmother. "It’s hard to explain what this revival means to our people," she says.

"The elders cried when they saw it was back in our community, they were so happy. And my grandmother said she always hoped and dreamed it would come back."

The public Welcoming of Blankets ceremony begins at 1:30 pm in the ASSC 1.

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zelma joseph

love our beautiful work Bud, hope to go see in person again someday. Zelma from alaska/nm

Pamela Jumbo

I heard about the weaving workshop through my co-workers at Lytton First Nations: Cheryl and Bobby. I read about the way you wanted to be taught, well, I would also like this opportunity, the workshop sounds great. It's a good day to learn.

All My relations

Pamela Jumbo

Sandie Dielissen, BA (Hons), Archaeology & First Nations Studies

It is a honour to have these beautiful weavings hang in the atrium of the museum and First Nations Studies. This area has finally come alive! We are fortunate to have the story of Burnaby Mountain told through the magnificent art of traditional Salish weavers. Thank you for sharing this work through the workshop, storytelling, dancing and singing.

Margit Boronkay

Did the Salish people do backstrap weaving?

Luci Hicks

Is traditional Salish weaving done vertical like the Navajo rug weaving? I am assuming yes because of the long time element. Harness loom weaving with the treddling and the heddles and harnesses seems more recent. Your work is beautiful.

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