First Nations Baskets at the Langley Centennial Museum
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N'laka'pamux Basketry Making Today

Like many other traditional hand-crafted items, First Nations basketry production was much affected by the increasing availability of manufactured goods. When James Teit was working on Coiled Basketry in British Columbia and the Surrounding Region, most likely between 1912 and 1918, he mentioned that the Thompson were producing as many baskets as they ever had. By then, however, they had become a collectible. A number of the Thompson and Lillooet baskets in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, for instance, were collected between 1895 and 1914. Teit may have been involved in the acquisition of other collections in his work for Franz Boas. Mrs. Kathleen Pearson Southwell was collecting her baskets in the 1910s and 1920s. Already, N'laka'pamux women were producing their baskets more for this new collectibles market and 'the tourist trade.' The effect of the Depression from 1929 onwards no doubt reduced the marketability of the baskets even more, endangering the tradition of this handicraft at which the N'laka'pamux women had excelled.

Basket-making among the N'laka'pamux, however, is more than a memory and a museum artefact, and recent initiatives have sought to revitalize the tradition and to encourage basket-making and its appreciation once again. The example of one such initiative is given here.

Elder Lawrence Hope

Elder Lawrence Hope

In 2003, the Historic Yale Museum (Yale and District Historical Society) organized a weekend workshop and lecture series under the title of Fraser Canyon Roots - Culture of Yale & Spuzzum Basketmakers.

Beginning with a keynote address by elder Lawrence Hope on the history of the Yale people in the Fraser Canyon, and a lecture by Dr. Andrea Laforet of the Canadian Museum of Civilization on Basketry of the Fraser Canyon, there were talks on the first day by many First Nations people, such as The Many Uses of Cedar: Traditional & Modern (Betty Peters), Coiling, Imbrication & the Basketry of Lena Johnnie (presented by her daughter Marion Dixon), a demonstration by Marion Dixon on Bannock: A Staple of Native Life, which was followed by a reading by W.P. Kinsella. The day ended with a tour of the Yale Museum and the historic church, followed by a traditional Salmon Barbecue Feast, with entertainment provided by the Old Time Fiddlers.

Basket-making demonstration by Marion Dixon.

Basket-making demonstration by Marion Dixon.

On the second day, elder Lawrence Hope spoke of his ancestors and shared stories of his youth, growing up among Spuzzum basket-makers, including his mother, grandmother, and many aunts. Jennifer Iredale then spoke on the Wonderful Provenance of the Yale Baskets, discussing the fact that at the Yale Museum the collection of baskets is quite unique in that the makers have been researched and identified as being native to Yale, Spuzzum and North Bend. Irene Bjerky then spoke on Fraser Canyon Roots: Genealogies of the Basketmakers. Cathy Hope and Christina Stephenson, daughters of Elsie Charlie, presented a talk on Root-Gathering, & the Basketry of Elsie Charlie. Spuzzum residents Nita Robb and Laurianne Rockel demonstrated the techniques of making baskets from jack pine needles. Cathy Hope demonstrated the methods used by generations of her ancestors to wind-dry salmon in the unique conditions of the Fraser Canyon, with guests having the unforgettable experience of getting a taste of the fruits of her labour. The day ended with a visit to Lady Franklin Rock, a Yale landmark and Yale's 'place of power.'