Lessons in First Nations art

Yale Historic Site hosts cedar root basketry workshop this Saturday

Mary Ann James with baskets and cedar roots in North Bend in 1938. She made some of the smaller ones

Yale Historic Site is hosting the sixth Fraser Canyon Roots Basketry Workshop this Saturday.

Lessons on root-splitting, coiling and imbrication will be taught by Marion Dixon, Nita Bobb and Laurie Rockel. There will be also be demonstrations of pine needle work and a salmon wind-drying lesson, as well as a salmon feast that includes a first-hand view of how to make bannock and xusim (Indian ice cream from soopalallie berries).

“This is something that’s been done here for years,” said Yale Historic Site supervisor Deb Zervini.

“There’s only a few people that really know how to do it now. It’s not so much done as a practical thing anymore as it is trying to keep that particular facet of their culture alive.”

The baskets are made using resilient cedar roots. When roots are dug up, they are split and dried before being coiled around smaller ones using a sharp awl, usually a deer bone. The intricate designs are woven right into the coils using only three colours: red, black and white, which comes from cherry bark and bleached bear grass. The designs, called imbrication, must be planned meticulously for the design to be right. It can easily take a person six months to make a medium-sized basket.

“It’s a very ancient art and way of life that is fast disappearing,” said Zervini.

“The workshop will show people how they would have gone about gathering the roots and bark and making the baskets that are on display here. It’s about passing down traditions and culture.”

In 1993, Aida Freeman (née Southwell) donated more than half of her mother’s basket collection to the Langley Centennial Museum, and the remainder to Yale Historic Site the following year. The collection in Yale had already been researched and documented, including biographies of the basket makers.

The Fraser Canyon Roots Basketry Workshop kicks off at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 23. The workshop fee, including the salmon feast, is $100. For more information, call 604-863-2324 or email info@historicyale.ca

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