North Van students wrap up Coast Salish weaving project

When it comes to weaving, these kids love to loom.

Following a school-wide Coast Salish legacy weaving project, students at Cove Cliff Elementary got to admire the end result of their multi-month undertaking at an unveiling last month.

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The weaving project was intended to provide a hands-on lesson in First Nations culture while encouraging students to learn a new skill, explains Cove Cliff principal Katherine Kee.

“I think they learned a lot about the culture and the art. We have a ways to go, but I think it’s a great first step that allowed an entry point,” says Kee.

After learning about the great tradition of Coast Salish weaving through instruction from some well-regarded local First Nations practitioners of the craft, students were tasked with weaving together their own small wool squares that were then incorporated into a larger piece.

The finished project showcases a myriad of colours and designs which represent the individuality of the student working in concert with the techniques and traditions offered through Coast Salish weaving.

“We’re going to have four of those panels and they’re going to be raised up into the atrium of our school for the four cardinal directions – north, south, east, west – and everyone will be able to view it no matter which of the hallways they come down,” says Kee. “I think they were pretty excited to see their little piece added to such a big project, and it was something really meaningful for the school.”

Inspiration for the project was spurred following a demonstration of Coast Salish weaving by Squamish Nation weaver Spelexih (Angie Dawson) for Cove Cliff teachers last year. A number of teachers were then moved to incorporate weaving into the curriculum, according to Kee.

Following the dedicated efforts of a number of teachers, Chepximiya Siyam’ Chief Janice George and Skwetsimeltxw Willard “Buddy” Joseph and Tsleil-Waututh weaver Kiki Whitebear were brought in to help students in grades 3/4 and 6/7, respectively, learn more about the practice, says Kee.

“The take-away was a real coming together as the community -- and all different levels, no matter what grade you were, what ability you had, you could create something pretty great and part of the bigger weaving project,” says Kee.

George, who along with her husband Buddy have together provided weaving education for thousands of youth and adults since the early 2000s, says they’re very grateful to able to provide this education at local schools.

“If there’s one thing that we’re proud of in our life is that we’ve been able to do that,” says George. “We’ve had great reactions from the kids when they’re learning.”

Kee notes that one of the special aspects of the project  was how students were able to transfer their newfound knowledge to other students as the project progressed.

“It was really neat because we had our young Grade 3 and 4s, who were the first people to learn, teaching all the way out to our 4s and 5s, and then down to kindergarten,” says Kee. “They just felt that Janice and Buddy were so knowledgeable and patient and just really shared their culture in an open way with the children.”

In the fall, the four large finished panels will be attached onto a piece of plywood and will be raised up to the ceiling, notes Kee. The children may wonder which individual square among the many is their own, though they’ll have the satisfaction of knowing they’ve been part of a project bigger than themselves, which will hopefully last for ages, says Kee.

“Sometimes it’s really hard to get a school to come together on one project -- there’s a lot of logistics and planning -- [but] everyone was open to it, which I thought was really great,” says Kee.

As for the 30 table looms the school ordered so the kids could learn about the art and tradition of weaving, Kee says they’ll help the school when it comes to future endeavours in Indigenous education.

“We’re keeping these looms; we’re hoping it continues next year,” says Kee.

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