Brenda Crabtree, Director of Aboriginal Programs at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, is a basket making artist and says her late grandmother Matilda Borden liked to pour a cup of tea to display her basket making expertise, proving her cups made from material gathered in British Columbia’s forests were watertight. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Canada says B.C. Indigenous basket making an event of historic significance

Canada recognized Nlaka’pamux basket making for its national historic significance this month

Matilda Borden liked to pour a cup of tea to display her basket making expertise, proving her cups made from material gathered in British Columbia’s forests were watertight, says her granddaughter Brenda Crabtree.

Not one drop would leak, recalls Crabtree, who is also a basket-making artist and Aboriginal programs director at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver.

“She was showing off and it’s really, truly the mark of a master weaver,” she said of her grandmother who died in 1975.

Among First Nations, basket weavers have always been held in high regard, said John Haugen of the Nlaka’pamux Nation from B.C.’s Fraser Canyon.

“If you were a good basket maker and somebody else wanted your baskets they would have food to trade with you or other items.”

Now the baskets are gaining more notice than just being functional works of art.

Canada recognized Nlaka’pamux basket making for its national historic significance this month with a ceremony at Lytton, about 265 kilometres northeast of Vancouver.

“Historic designations reflect Canada’s rich and varied history and I encourage all Canadians to learn more about Nlaka’pamux basket making and its important contributions to Canada’s heritage,” said Jati Sidhu, Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP, on behalf of Catherine McKenna, the minister responsible for Parks Canada.

Andrea Laforet, retired director of ethnology and cultural studies at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, said the making, use and trading of coiled basketry has been part of the history of the Indigenous Peoples of the southern Interior of B.C. and parts of Washington state for centuries, if not thousands of years.

“Like many of the utilitarian objects made in Indigenous societies in B.C., they are also works of art,” said Laforet, who attended the ceremony in Lytton.

The baskets served as vital trade commodities for Indigenous Peoples in the Fraser Canyon area before and following contact with non-Indigenous people, Haugen said.

“We knew we were prolific basket makers and our baskets were traded outside of our nation prior to contact,” said Haugen, who said war canoes from Vancouver Island made the voyage up the Fraser River to Spuzzum on trade missions.

The baskets made by Nlaka’pamux women provided economic support for families and communities from about 1850 to 1930 when they were traded in nearby non-Indigenous communities, he said.

Today, the baskets are on display in museums around the world and are coveted pieces at auctions, said Haugen, whose aunts were well-known basket makers, and his mother was an avid collector who often helped local people sell their work to collectors.

Borden was also part of the Nlaka’pamux Nation, and Crabtree said some of her earliest memories are of helping her grandmother harvest, process and weave cedar roots and bark into baskets.

“I love the fact that this form of basketry has been recognized as really, truly, technically amazing,” she said.

She said the baskets served as items for cooking, storing and transporting food as well as being expressions of art by local women.

“We never really developed a pottery complex in the northwest coast because we didn’t need it,” she said. “People think how can you cook with just a cedar root basket? Well, you fill them with water and put hot rocks from fires into the basket. It would steam the food.”

Crabtree said her most recent works of basketry include cultural commentary woven into the object. She said one of her baskets includes the residential school policy statement: ”Kill the Indian in the child.”

“I’m really using our baskets now as a vehicle for a discussion related to aboriginal identity and contemporary issues,” she said. “They can hold water, cook, and have an added message.”

Retired ethnobotanist Nancy Turner, who wrote extensively about Interior basket making, said the baskets embodied the lifestyle of the Interior peoples.

“They say if you are making a basket you should never be in a bad mood,” she said. “You should never get angry. You should be of good mind because the basket you are making will pick up on your own sense of well being.”

Turner said students soon learned her courses in basket making were not as easy as imagined.

“People will sometimes talk about ‘Basket Making 101’ if you’re taking a simple course at university, but when I taught ethnobotany at University of Victoria, I had the students do a making-things project,” she said. “The students soon learned it’s not at all simple.”

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Langley community dinner for ‘all walks of life’

Langley local Stacey Wakelin is hosting a community dinner that caters to everyone.

Police dog helps apprehend ‘prolific’ property crime offender near Surrey, Langley border

Douglas Holmes, 47, has been charged with break and enter of a business on the Langley Bypass

VIDEO: Burglars bust windows and loot Brookswood stores

Thieves have hit two Brookswood stores in commercial burglaries in the last month.

COMMUTER ALERT: Serious pedestrian crash closes Pacific Highway

Traffic along 176th Street, 4th to 8th Avenue, is blocked while Mounties continue to investigate.

LETTER: Canada should not be selling weapons abroad

A Langley man is critical of Canada for selling arms that are being used to kill civilians.

People flocking to Vancouver Island city to see hundreds of sea lions

Each year the combination of Steller and California sea lions take over Cowichan Bay

Roy Clark, country singer, ‘Hee Haw’ star, has died

Guitar virtuoso died because of complications from pneumonia at home in Tulsa, Okla. He was 85.

Lack of funding, culture on campus biggest barriers for Indigenous students: report

Report based on nearly 300 responses found lack of support at post-secondary schools a big concern

Tinder sex assault suspect charged; additional alleged victims sought

Vincent Noseworthy of Alberta is accused of aggravated sexual assault, unlawful confinement and more

Drug-related deaths double for B.C. youth in care, advocate says

Teens say positive connections with adults key to recovery

Children’s strawberry-flavoured medicines recalled due to faulty safety cap

Three different acetaminophen syrups part of nationwide recall

Around the BCHL: Junior A cities to host World Junior tuneup games

Around the BCHL is a look at what’s happening in the league and around the junior A world.

International students hit hard by B.C. tuition fee hikes

Campaign seeks regulatory controls be imposed on post-secondary institutions

Trudeau pushes for more Saudi accountability in Khashoggi killing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is still seeking clear answers from Saudi Arabia about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi

Most Read