Alcheringa Gallery Contemporary Indigenous Art

Territorial Acknowledgement

In an era of truth and reconciliation in Canada, and the United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Alcheringa Gallery
honours the original occupants of this place as well as the
indigenous artists we are honoured and proud to represent.

We acknowledge, with the utmost gratefulness, goodwill and respect,
the Lekwungen peoples (Songhees and Xwsepsum Nations) for sharing
their unceded and traditional territories with us.
 
We also give thanks to Lekwungen, Coast Salish, and Turtle Island
ancestors, supernatural ones, hereditary leaders and matriarchs,
creatures big and small for looking after the rich resources and
cultural teachings of this beautiful land for millennia.

Our Work

Alcheringa Gallery is one of the leading indigenous art galleries in the world specializing in contemporary art from the Northwest Coast of Canada. Based in downtown Victoria, BC - and grateful to be on the traditional territories of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples - Alcheringa has been proud to represent the leading indigenous artists from Vancouver Island, BC and Canada for over 35 years, and has placed art in private and public collections all over the world. The gallery produces four to six new exhibitions every year, supplemented by ongoing new works by gallery artists. Alcheringa has one of the largest fine print collections to be found anywhere, and also represents paintings, carvings/sculptures, jewellery, ceramics, and textiles. Alcheringa Gallery has had a long commitment to supporting and promoting artists by donating back to their communities in ongoing efforts to preserve and protect indigenous culture.


Our Name

Alcheringa is an Aboriginal Australian word for the Dreamtime, the mythical time of creation, when the world and all living creatures were sung into existence. It is believed that singing and dancing maintain the state of the landscape, and that these invisible songlines hold the earth together.

We believe Alcheringa represents the sacred, supernatural, and mysteries in indigenous art that goes beyond what is shared and visible.

Our Services

We are proud of the work we have done to recognize and promote the work of the Northwest Coast indigenous artists we represent, in all stages of their career. Alcheringa has worked with private collectors, governments, museums, architects, designers, and corporate clients.

In addition to selling artwork, we offer the following services:

- Commissions with any of our artists, for any type of artwork

- Consultation on projects big and small

- Appraisals: personal and insurance purposes

- Art loans/rentals or rent-to-own

- Custom framing, installation and restoration

- Consignment of fine indigenous art (secondary art market)

We look forward to hearing from you through our Contact Us page.

Our People

Mark Loria, Director/Owner and Mary Loria, Owner

mark (@) alcheringa-gallery.com

Mark Loria brings to Alcheringa many years of arts management and cultural leadership. He has held senior positions with the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Glenbow Museum, Institute of Modern Art (Australia) and Shaw Centre fo the Salish Sea. Mark has worked closely with leading Indigenous artists from Australia and Canada, most recently with a focus on Coast Salish art of the Northwest Coast. Mark is an artist himself with a BFA in visual art from the University of Calgary majoring in printmaking and also holds an arts management graduate certificate from Capilano University. Among many other leadership roles within the community, Mark is currently the board treasurer of Open Space Art Society.

Mary Loria is a local ceramic artist who holds a BA in Art History from the University of Calgary as well as studying ceramics at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Mary is a sessional ceramics instructor in Art Education at the University of Victoria as well as the Arts Centre at Cedar Hill.

Mark and Mary and their four children have lived as univited guests on Lekwungen Territory (Victoria, BC) since 2007.

 

Elaine Monds - Alcheringa Gallery Victoria BCElaine Monds, Advisor and Gallery Founder

Elaine Monds' interest in the cultures of the world began early, during a childhood in Kenya and Australia. She moved to Canada in the 1970s and opened a business that developed into Alcheringa Gallery. In 1984, she fell in love with the arts and peoples of Papua New Guinea during the first of many trips to that region. Alcheringa Gallery began introducing Papua New Guinean art to North American audiences, later expanding to represent eminent and emerging Indigenous artists from Australia, Canada's Northwest Coast, and other Pacific traditions. Over more than 25 years of exhibitions, publications, artist exchanges, and collaborations with major cultural institutions worldwide, Alcheringa Gallery has become recognised as a leading advocate of contemporary Indigenous fine arts and cultural exchange. In 2001 Elaine was honoured with a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award and in 2012 she received the Queen's diamond jubilee medal. Elaine continues to make regular trips to visit artists in the South Pacific..

 

 

 

 

 

NORTHWEST COAST

INDIGENOUS SYMBOLOGY

Bear

Strength, learned humility, motherhood and teaching. Bear is the protector of the animal kingdom, awakening the power of the unconscious. As a symbol of great strength, authority and mobility it is an important family crest. Due to its power and human-like qualities, West Coast people as Elder Kinsmen referred to the bear. When killed, it was taken to the chief's house, sprinkled with eagle down (a symbol of welcome and friendship) and generally treated as a high-ranking guest.

Beaver

Creative, artistic and determined. Also known as the carpenter of the animal kingdom, a builder of dreams. Beaver is an important crest and the subject of many legends. One legend tells of the origin of the beaver being a woman with brown hair. She dammed a small stream to make a pool for swimming. As she swam, her leather apron kept slapping the water. The pool became a lake and because of scolding words from her husband, she refused to leave it. She became covered with brown fur, her apron turned into a tail, and thus she became the first beaver. Beaver reminds us that we have to act on our dreams to make them a reality.

Beluga Whale

A myth told by traditional people across the Arctic describes a totemic marriage between a woman and a beluga whale. A young maiden left her village one day searching for bird eggs, and returned with a whale skull, which she wore like a hat. The spirit in the skull eventually pulled her out to sea where it turned into a beluga whale, named Keiko, who made the woman his wife. The woman’s brother was bound to preserve his family honour so he built a boat and sailed out to rescue her. Keiko became frightened when the boat stopped directly over his home. His wife had grown fond of him, and now she tried to calm Keiko. She swam to the cliffs to gather eggs and birds for a feast to serve their guest. The brother ate little, while beckoning Keiko to eat more than his share. Finally, the brother whispered to his sister, 'your husband has eaten too much. Sing to him now, that he may rest.' So she sang a lullaby, and Keiko slept. When the whale awoke, he saw his wife was gone. He followed the boat's wake, and soon caught up to the pair on the village shore where many people arrived to stab Keiko to death.

The woman eventually gave birth to a tiny whale who was much beloved by everyone in the tribe. She kept him in a little cup. But he grew quickly and soon asked to be put into a pail. Finally he pleaded to be set free into the ocean, where he quickly grew to a full-sized whale. One night, strangers arrived who killed the whale for food. In the Yakut Siberian version of the myth, the tribe responds to this murder by attacking the strangers.

This story is told to explain how warfare first came to the human beings. In a version from Hudson Bay, the strangers were the first European whalers.

Bukwus

Bukwus, or wild man of the woods, is a significant supernatural spirit being of the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation and casts a haunting figure in their great annual winter dance. Bukwus is linked with the underworld of the dead and with ghosts -- especially the spirits of the drowned who hover near him. This mysterious and elusive wild man lurks near the edge of the dark forest where he lives, offering food to lost humans, luring them to become spirits in his shadowy underworld.

Bukwus is generally conceived as short (about four feet tall), and green. He can be viewed as a guardian spirit, protecting the deep woods from intrusion and harm. Dancers will portray him creeping to a sand bank on a sunny morning to dig for cockles, which is his favourite food.  He is very shy and looks about to see if he is being watched, shading his face from the sun with his hands. Suddenly he leaps forward, settles on one knee searching for cockles, and devours them quickly, occasionally uttering a high pitched whoop or shriek from a concealed whistle.

DOGFISH

Dogfish is an important crest and mythic being among the Haida of B.C.’s Haida Gwaii or Queen Charlotte Islands. It is a favourite subject of the world-renowned Haida artists Robert Davidson and Bill Reid. The classical Haida representation of Dogfish may well be the most ingenious exercise in abstraction in the whole Haida bestiary. Though at first it might seem impossible to relate the broad face and long forehead of the traditional Dogfish crest to the narrow-bodied, sleek little shark of the same name, every step in the design is logically and carefully thought out, and all of the important anatomical features of the fish are captured in the symbolic form.

The Dogfish is equipped with a dangerous pair of sharp bony spikes, protruding each just ahead of the Dogfish’s two dorsal fins. Not considered appealing as food, Dogfish were not a valued commodity. In fact, Dogfish are a great nuisance to fishermen seeking Salmon, Halibut, and Cod: they have a voracious appetite for bait and sandpaper rough skin suited for severing fishing lines. It is a testament to the Dogfish’s wild ominous grace and power that such a troublesome and worthless creature could become an honoured family crest. Other sharks sometimes also appear in Northwest Coast art and legend. The Nuu-chah-nulth peoples of Western Vancouver Island feared giant, malicious shark monsters that lived in deep holes under cliffs and liked to eat canoes. Named "Dogfish Mothers", they were likely inspired by the great white sharks that sometimes hunt Sea Lions in B.C.’s waters.

The motif features a high domed head with a front facing personified face. This "Dogfish-spirit" face is stylised with a down-turned mouth, often with sharp pointed teeth, gill slits on each side of the mouth, and vertical pupils. On the domed "forehead" there are two circles representing nostrils and sometimes a further set of gills. This naturalistic underside view of the fish’s long tapering head and nose makes a double-headed design depicting both shark and spirit. The body is finished with the double set of fins behind spines, and asymmetrical tail flukes.

Dogfish Woman

Dogfish Woman is another very similar design in Haida and Northern crests and art. She has most of the identifying characteristics of the dogfish crest itself, but also has a beak for her nose that curves into her mouth - a symbol of transformation powers. She is also often shown with a disk shaped labret of the type high ranking Haida women wore inserted in their lower lip. The story of Dogfish Woman tells that she was carried off by a Dogfish and became one of its kind, but able to transform back again to a human. She became the ancestor of the families who now claim the Dogfish as their crest.

Dzunuk’wa (The Wild Woman of the Woods)

Dzunuk'wa's most important role is the bringer of wealth and good fortune. The giantess Dzunuk'wa is a member of the large family of giants who live in the far away mountains and woods. Black in color, with bushy, unkempt hair and a pursed mouth through which she utters the cry, Hu! Hu! She is a terrifying and threatening creature. She carries a huge basket on her back in which she puts the disobedient children she steals, taking them to her home to eat them. However, the children often outwit her, as she is vain, stupid and clumsy. Another aspect of Dzunuk'wa is the possessor of the “Water-of-Life”, a gift she would bestow on people fortunate enough to encounter and overcome her. In the Winter Ceremonies, Dzunuk'wa appears in two forms. As a dancer in the T'seka, she is a shaggy lumbering creature with half shut eyes. She is not awake enough to dance the normal four circuits around the fire, but staggers in the wrong direction and when escorted to her seat, she falls asleep. In her other role, she carries a basket of coppers that she gives to the Chief who is selling or giving them away. The most important right of the Dzunuk'wa, is when Kwakwaka’wakw Chief’s wear a special form of this creature. At the end of required potlatch obligations to complete a hereditary Chief’s role, the Chief will put on the family’s crest representing a male Dzunuk'wa mask called Gi’kaml. This mask characterized not by the foolish face with half closed eyes, but a strong and noble face with eyes partially opened. These masks usually include a mustache, eyebrows and locks of human hair, and are very carefully carved, representing family title and hereditary nobility.

Eagle

Great strength, leadership, prestige, spirit-healing and creation. Eagle also has a strong connection to peace. Long a symbol of spiritual power and illumination, eagles inspire people of all societies. Their energy is healing and aids in creation. It is one of the principal crests of the West Coast Natives. Eagle down, a symbol of peace and friendship, was, and still is, sprinkled before guests in welcome dances and other ceremonial occasions.

Frog

A symbol of the spring and new life and communicator and stabilizer. Frog is revered for his adaptability, knowledge and power to traverse worlds and inhabit both natural and supernatural realms. Frog often represents the common ground or voice of the people. Frog's songs are believed to contain divine power and magic. Frog is frequently depicted in the art of the Northwest Coast and many legends are attached to this important animal.

Goose

Often heard before they are seen - ‘honk, honk, honk!’ - geese are the reminder of the changing seasons. Their sight, like their sound, is also unmistakeable. Flying in a “V” formation to save energy whilst flying, they appear with the coming of both spring and fall. When a Canada Goose flies overhead, it’s an instant reminder that Winter is approaching.

The Naxak, or Canada Goose, was traditionally eaten by the Kwakwaka’wakw and the Coast Salish. They would hunt for these birds at night with a small fire on board a canoe. The geese would stare into the fire light as the canoe approached, unaware of the hunters hidden onboard. When the moment was right, the hunters would throw a framed net over the geese, trapping them. Though not a family crest, the Goose is often depicted in the art. They represent travel and the changing of the seasons.

GROUSE

Though the grouse is common to the Northwest Coast, it was not frequently depicted in the art or mythology. It is perhaps best known for its appearance in the Atlakim Dance, when it is the first mask to enter the dance floor, and calls the other dancers out. In masks, it is usually depicted with round, open and alert eyes, a re-curved beak, and open, pursed lips. Small, round feather motifs are often painted around the mouth and eyes, and the mask is detailed with feathers and bark.

Halibut

To the Haida, halibut are a symbol of prosperity. Halibut are a mythologically important fish to many tribes of the Pacific Northwest. The Halibut is a flat fish that starts life swimming in a vertical plan and eventually turns over on its side to become a bottom feeder. The underneath eye moves to the upper side, giving the fish its unique appearance. An abundant food source, the Kwagiulth believed the Halibut threw off its skin and fins to emerge as the first Human after the Great Flood subsided. Commonly carved in feast dishes and used for oolichan oil. The more detailed and elaborate a dish, the more highly ranked the person was who owned it.

Hawk Mask

An initiated member of one of the secret societies used the Hawk Mask during one of the Kwakiutl Winter ceremonies. The privilege of membership was usually secured by marriage. The right was passed on to a woman and she, in turn, gave them to her children by her father or uncle. Occasionally a man would declare himself half-woman to marry himself and pass the right onto him. Hawk symbols are apparent in other Northwest Coast cultures as deliverers of important warning information about impending dangers in the future.

Heron

Grace, purity, patience and long life. The Heron is seen as an expert fisher and hunter and it is thought to be good luck to see one just before a hunt. Due to the Heron spending so much time in the water the West Coast people believed they represent going with the flow. The Heron is seen as a animal that works alongside mother nature. They are a very large bird that grows over a meter in height.

Huk-Huk

The Huk-Huk (or Hok-Hok) is one of the mythological Hamatsa (Cannibal dance) bird masks. The HUK-HUK uses it's long beak to crack open human skulls and suck out brains. It is a long-beaked bird monster who is a part of the great household in the sky which is controlled by the Chief cannibal spirit, Bakbakwasnooksiwae. The Hok Hok is portrayed in dances of the Hamatsa society in the important Kwakiutl winter ceremonies.

Human

Humans are often represented as being partially from the spirit world. If the subject is a woman, occasionally a small disc (a labret) is placed in the lower lip. This may be represented as an ovoid. Faces of humans, or their spiritual counterparts, frequently appear within the outlines of other creatures.

Hummingbird

Love, beauty, intelligence – a spirit messenger that represents friendship and playfulness. Also represents tireless Joy and the nectar of life. The Hummingbird is also a symbol of good luck and good fortune. It was considered a positive sign to spot a Hummingbird just prior to some major event such as hunting or traveling to another village. Hard workers and fiercely independent, Hummingbird teaches us how to find the miracle of joyful living from your own life circumstances.

Inukshuk

Inukshuk is the Inuktitut word representing the human form figure. Inuksuit is the plural of Inukshuk.

For perhaps millenia the Inuit people have built Inuksuit on top of steep hills bordering narrow valleys in order to channel and lure Caribou on their migratory routes. From a distance these cairns often resembled a human form. The Caribou would be deceived and drawn into hunting areas strategically placed at the head of the valley. The naturally curious animals would come close to the archers who were hidden behind these lichen-covered rocks. There, the hunters would have ample opportunity to increase their food stocks tenfold. After a particularly successful hunt, a new Inukshuk was sometimes erected to mark a food cache of excess dried meat to be hoarded for future lean times for the Inuit people. Inuit has built Inuksuit all over the Arctic regions and there are some still standing today from prehistoric times about 8-10,000 years ago. Some are as high as 10-12 feet. They were not necessarily all built like a standing person. The Inuit used the rocks that were lying on the tundra, ranging from huge boulders to very small stones. The rocks were carefully chosen and even tiny stones were used to keep the larger rocks balanced and in place. They marked sites of spiritual significance, gathering places and were keepers of cultural tradition. Ultimately through the changes to Inuit lifestyle, the Inuksuit have now become mainly landmarks and a direction marker on the vast, featureless tundra of the Arctic. Today, small Inuksuit are still built to indicate routes for travelers and are a welcome sight when finding a way on the land.

Killer Whale (Orca)

Traveler and guardian - symbol of good, power of song - the awakener of inner depths. The whale, in general, is a popular symbol for romance as they mate for life. The whale, like the wolf, stays with its family and travel in large pods. The legend of the Killer Whale is a tale of Natcitlaneh who was abandoned on an island by his brothers-in-law who were jealous of his prowess as a hunter. He was rescued by the Sea Lions and taken to their village in a cave where he healed their Chief. In gratitude, the Sea Lions gave him supernatural powers enabling him to carve eight wooden Killer Whales. These Whales came to life when they were placed in the sea and avenged him by killing his brothers-in-law. As a mark of respect, Natcitlaneh built a house and named it Killer Whale House. According to the legend, the ancestors visited the house located at the bottom of the ocean to obtain rights to use the Killer Whale as a crest.

Held in great awe for its power and size, it was believed a Killer Whale could capture a canoe and take it underwater to transform the occupants into Whales. Thus a Whale near the shore was a human transformed and trying to communicate with his family. The Killer Whale's song is said to be so beautiful that all creation is said to stop and listen to it. It is also said that to be splashed by a killer whale is to ensure great luck and happiness.

Indeed, the Killer Whale is said to have originated from a single great white wolf that leaped into the sea and transformed itself into a Killer Whale. That is why they have the white markings on their sides, travel in packs and are such skilled hunters. Another explanation for the white markings on the killer whale is the legend of the Killer Whale falling and Osprey, when the killer whale was all black. Killer Whale and Osprey loved each other and Killer Whale would jump into the air to be closer to Osprey who in turn would fly low to the water to be closer to Killer Whale. The love was so great that when their child was born she was black and white; black like Killer Whale and white like Osprey.

KOMOKWA (King of the Undersea Realm)

Sometimes called “Wealth Giver” or “Copper Maker” referring to his vast riches. The Kwakwaka’wakw people of northern Vancouver Island believed that the ocean was an immense river that flowed down from the North. This river flowed through the mouth of the earth at the north end of the world and descended to the country of the Ghosts. When the ocean tide ebbs, the water flows into the underworld filling it. When the tide in the ocean raises it empties the underworld. This “Undersea World” should be thought of as a world that exists below the ocean with the water as a barrier between them. Amongst the monsters and marine animals reigns a powerful divinity, Komokwa/Komoquwa, the master of all riches. He lives in a palace made entirely of copper and has Loons for guards and Seals as servants. All the creatures of the sea are subservient to him. In mythic times many heroes tried to visit Komoquwa. Those that succeeded returned with great wealth and supernatural powers.

Loon

Peace, tranquility – generous-giving nature - reawakener of old hopes, wishes and dreams. The Loon is very much a part of the West Coast aura; it plays a significant part in the symbols of the West Coast Natives. The loon is always around water, and water is the ancient symbol for the astral plane, dreams and other levels of consciousness. Loons ask you pay attention to your dreams. The Loons call though melancholy and eerie may also be telling you that all your hopes, wishes and dreams you may have tucked away in the back of your heart are about to come to the surface. If you compromise your dreams you may truly find yourself haunted.

Moon

Protector and guardian of the Earth by night. The Moon lightens the darkness of the night. The Moon was the exclusive crest of only a few of the highest-ranking chiefs. The Raven is said to have released the Moon into the sky. The stars are pieces of the Moon that flung off when Raven threw it into the sky. An eclipse was said to be a Codfish trying to swallow the Moon. In order to prevent this, a bonfire was set with green boughs to add smoke. As people danced ceremonially around the fire, thick smoke rose to the sky causing the codfish to cough and spit out the Moon. When the people saw the Moon appear at the edge of the mountain they would drum to bring the Moon higher into the sky.

Mosquito

Mosquitoes are viewed as enemies of humankind by many tribes, and some legends feature blood-sucking or man-eating monsters transformed into mosquitoes. They are known as a symbol of inconvenience, disturbance and irritation in one’s life. Female mosquitoes are considered contributor to the cycle of life since they are taking our blood to nourish their babies. Some cultures believe that Dzunukwa burned in a forest fire and her particles rained back down from the sky as mosquitoes.

Otter

Ability to play and find renewed joy in our lives. Otter uses spiritual awareness and devotion as a framework for progress. Otter reminds us that we need to relax - we cannot continue through life along a path of stress and pressure - this will lead to a life without joy. Nurturing, revelling in nature’s beauty and the love of children and family are key attributes of the Otter.

Owl

Wisdom and omens, and with the vision of the night. No bird has as much myth and mystery surrounding it than the owl. Part of this mystical aura is due to the fact that the bird is nocturnal and the night time has always seemed mysterious to humans. The owl is a symbol of the feminine, the moon, and the night. Due to its association with the moon it has ties to fertility and seduction. The owl is bird of magic and darkness of prophecy and wisdom and the unknown.

Polar Bear (Ursus Maritimus)

The Polar Bear is the largest carnivore on four feet in the entire world. Males can weigh up to 1400 pounds and reach up to 10 feet in length. Their natural habitats are Arctic Sea ice, waters, islands and coasts. Life expectancy is between 20-25 years. Known for their white coat, this double layer of fur is extremely warm, being composed of hollow hairs to trap heat as well as act as a waterproof barrier. The Bear's compact build and thick layers of blubber helps to conserve heat.

For hunting purposes, the white coat camouflages the Bear as it stalks ringed Seals, its favourite food, or as it waits for the Seals to surface at their breathing holes. Polar Bear's massive claws combined with their immense strength also aid in hunting, as one swing is usually sufficient to fall a Walrus. A Bear's extremely acute sense of smell most often leads it to its prey. Polar Bears can eat 100 pounds of meat in one meal.

Another special adaptation that the Polar Bear possesses is webbed feet used in swimming. A Bear may swim for hours during its daily travels or while hunting. Polar Bears are usually solitary, although large groups may form close to major food sources or as they wait for the ice to freeze in early winter. Churchill, Manitoba is world famous for its Polar Bear watching during this season.

Female Polar Bears will give birth in December/January to one to three cubs. A mother builds a snow den especially for this purpose. Cubs will stay with their mother for almost three years. Older clubs will play fight games as training for future confrontations during mating season.

In general, Polar Bears are a favourite subject in carving and print making of Canada’s Inuit artists. Their name for the Polar Bear is Nanuq.

Pugwis (Merman)

The Pugwis, or Merman, is an undersea serpent in Human form. He is a harmless creature who lives in the undersea kingdom and is always represented when this kingdom is portrayed in Potlatch Ceremonies. From overhead the Loon guides this creature through the water and, for this reason, the Pugwis masks are usually carved with a Loon on his head.

Raven

Carrying creation and knowledge - bringer of the light and magic. One of the most prominent figures in our First Peoples’ cultures in North America. The Raven is credited with giving the light, fire, and water to the First Nations people. He had the power to change at will into an animal form or to that of a human being. The Raven is the transformer, trickster and creator. Known in legends as the one who released the sun, moon, and stars; discovered man in a clamshell; brought the salmon and the water; and taught man how to fish and hunt.

Salmon

Dependability and renewal - a provider symbol of abundance and prosperity - the salmon was the chief sustenance for the West Coast Natives. The Pacific Northwest Coast people believed that Salmon were actually humans with eternal life who lived in a large house far under the ocean. In the Spring, they put on their Salmon disguises and offered themselves to the villagers as food. The tribes believed that when entire fish skeletons were returned to the sea, the spirits would rise again and change into Salmon people. In this way, the cycle could begin again the following year.

Sea Lion

Wealth and abundance. The Sea Lion was of great value for the West Coast people. He was hunted for food and its skin used for clothing and fishing floats. The Sea Lion was also important in the legends and myths, especially for the Nootka culture. In the creation myth, the Sea Lion’s services are enlisted by the Raven to help him land in exchange for a fur coat so he can swim in the coldest of waters and keep warm.

Seal

Imagination and creativity. The round harbour seal is an important family crest. It was a favourite theme of northern bowl carvers, probably because it was an important source of oil and its meat and blubber were significant foods at feasts. Perched on its round belly on a reef, the harbour seal is a familiar sight to coast travelers.

The Seal Dish, also named the Potlatch Dish or House Dish, was a treasured heirloom which families brought out for great feasts. The use of the dish was an inherited privilege acquired by ancestral heroes in the course of legendary encounters with supernatural benefactors. The forms of the dish was made to look like Seals or Sea Lions and was linked to their function as vessels for plentiful food and not with crest privileges of any particular family. The carvings associated with the consumption of food far exceeded their function as mere containers for useful implements. The containers with inlaid Abalone and shells would be reserved for high-ranking guests or chiefs.

Shaman

More often than not Shamans were men and severe illness, hallucinations, visions or frequent dreams were considered the signs of such a calling. The role of the Shaman was a powerful and respectful one, and was therefore sought after. A Shaman would pass on their powers to a younger family member who was prepared and destined for this role. A lengthy apprenticeship followed where a novice was to acquire their master’s skills and learn how to control the spirit helpers. The success of the Shaman was dependent on the powers of the spirit helpers who would punish the Shaman if they did not perform the rites correctly. These spirit helpers could be birds, insects, reptiles, constellations or other elemental forces. Generally a Shaman served as a seer, performed and healer. If a patient remained ill or died, the Shaman was required to reimburse the family as well as deal with shame and ridicule from the community. A Shaman mask will often have a crown of Bear claws or Mountain Goat horns as a part of the ceremonial regalia.

Sisiutl/Sea Serpent

A dramatic supernatural creature, the double headed Sea Serpent is one of the most high ranking crests in Kwagiulth and other Northwest Coast culture. Its power possesses it to shift shape and transform from animal to man at anytime. As well, a Sisiutl can change itself into a self-propelled canoe, which the owner must feed with Seals.

Touching the serpent or even looking at it, or a glance from it, can cause death. Legends say Shamans tried to kill the Sisiutl for its healing power and magic. Its closely associated with war and strength, death and revival, so warriors try to kill it to rub its blood on themselves to attain its skilful strength and become invulnerable. A warrior would often wear a headband or belt in the image of a Sisiutl to provide protection from harm.

Flakes of shiny mica found on beaches were thought to be the discarded scales from the serpent’s body. Whether carved or painted, the Sisiutl is depicted with a profile head; teeth and a large curled tongue at each end of its serpentine form and in the centre is a human head. Fins run along its back and curled appendages or horns rise from all three heads. The painted body represents scales and it may be carved horizontally, formed into a U-shape or coiled into a circle.

Sisiutl guarded the entrance to the homes of the supernatural. It was painted on the sides of canoes and hung over doorways to protect the inhabitants from evil spirits.

Sun

Life, abundance and peace. Released from a box by Raven, the Sun Chief inhabited the sky and it was believed he could be reached by climbing a chain of arrows. He descended by sliding down its long rays. The Sun is often carved on totem poles and masks, and sits atop the tallest totem in the world (Alert Bay, British Columbia). It represents life abundance and its warmth radiates healing and peace.

Thunderbird

Powerful & Mystical – a leader of all - mythical bird that was the creator and controller of all elements and spirits. When he flew, the flapping of his wings caused the thunder, and the flashing of his eyes caused the lightning. He lived in the highest of mountains. The Thunderbird is a mythical creature that is said to be the dominating force of all natural activity. Located in the Pacific North Western Mountains, the Thunderbird creates booms of thunder by flapping his wings, and shoots bolts of lightning from his eyes, when hunters got too close to his home.

By creating rainstorms he waters the Earth, making it possible for vegetation to grow. He is said to be so huge that his wingspan is as large as two canoes, and that he could easily carry a killer whale out of the water with his talons. Only the most powerful and successful chiefs and families use the Thunderbird in their crest. He resembles the Eagle but is distinguished by the two curved horns or Plumage on his head. Long ago the Native people pleaded to the Thunderbird for help in times of food shortage, he helped, but in return requested that from then on he be only be depicted at the top of a totem pole with his wings stretched out. That is why on many Northwest Coast totem poles, the Thunderbird is carved on top of the pole.

Watchmen

It is common to find one of four Watchmen atop a house frontal Totem Pole. Mainly representative of the Northern Tribes, there are generally three Watchmen depicted on a Pole carved in a crouching position. These figures each wear high crowned hats that usually have two or more rings carved into them representing the status of the Chief whose house they guard. The Watchmen are known to have supernatural powers, and from their position they look out in several directions to keep watch over the village and out to sea. They protect those within the dwelling by warning the Chief of any approaching danger.

Wolf

Intelligence and leadership – carries a strong sense of family, guardianship, ritual and spirit. Revered because it was a good hunter, the wolf symbolizes cunning and was often associated with a special spirit a man had to acquire to become a successful hunter. As Wolves mate for life and live in close family units usually traveling in packs, they are regarded as a family-oriented symbol in West Coast Native culture. Wolf is the land manifestation of the Killer Whale as they mate for life, protect their young and do not separate from their families.

Wren Mask

Effervescence and renewed vitality of relationships. The Wren mask is representative of a population that existed in the beginning of the world along with Raven, Otter, Mink, etc. They were known to build their homes beneath grave boxes when they were hung from trees. The Wren was associated with eliminating many of the creatures on earth, due to their magical and spiritual qualities. The Wren is a mythological creature with the features of both human and bird.

Argillite

The Haida people are renowned for their beautiful 'black slate' or Argillite carvings. They began carving Argillite in response to the early curio trade of the 1820''s. Soon the artistic accomplishments of the Haida in the use of materials such as wood, horn and stone included this new medium.

The Argillite used by Haida carvers is a black or grey carbonaceous shale found at Slatechuck Creek on Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia. Argillite is a relatively soft stone to carve, although it’s difficult to obtain large pieces from the quarries. The supply of Argillite is not in any apparent danger of being exhausted so this Haida tradition of carvings will continue for many years to come.

Apart from small Totem Poles, the primary objects carved from Argillite include plates with incised designs, pendants, pipes, small boxes and sculptured figures. Some carvers give their work a high polish with emery cloth or other materials, which enhance the deep black qualities of the stone.

Even today, Argillite continues to be carved exclusively by Haida artists both on the Queen Charlotte Islands (their homeland) and in the Vancouver and Victoria areas.

Baskets

Traditionally, baskets were made on the Northwest Coast for purposes such as gathering food, cooking, storage, and for hats and cradles. Later, when baskets began to be made for selling purposes, a variety of new forms were created. They included trays, miniature containers and basketry-covered bottles.

For basket weavers and workers in plant materials, their legacy is in the hands-on approach to teaching the next generation. Elders of each tribe pass on the skills and traditions to their own families and communities. Although, the knowledge of weaving patterns pales in comparison to the importance of the intricacies of harvesting materials; maintaining the eco-system so no harm is done; and the techniques used for processing and storing the materials.

Each tribal group of the Northwest Coast has its own distinctive style of basketry that utilizes different materials and techniques. Common to all styles of basketry is the lengthy process of gathering and preparing the materials to be used in the basket making. There’s bark, roots, and grasses to be harvested, dried, split and perhaps dyed before the weaving process or sewing of the basket can begin.

In British Columbia, the effects of pollution, land development and logging means that basket makers must now go longer distances from their homes to obtain their materials.

Today, Nootkas (West Coast), Haida and Salish artists produce the most readily available basketry. The very best of contemporary baskets, as well as antique ones, are becoming collector’s items.

Taking care of baskets

Taking care of baskets requires that they are not to be display in direct sunlight or bright artificial light. Too much light and heat will cause the basket to become dry and brittle as well as make the colors fade.

Alternately, baskets should not be kept in humid conditions since mildew and dust will collect on them and fibres might stretch.

Baskets should be handled with care - always use two hands, never lift a basket by its rim and avoid using a basket’s handles or knobs. Too much pressure on the basket may cause the fibres to break so be careful if you decide to use your basket for storage or other purposes.

Do not attempt to wash your basket as this can only cause strain on the already tensely woven fibres and lead to warping or breakage. To clean baskets, use a soft brush to remove any dust.

Beadwork

Beadwork is one of many mediums that have been mastered by the Northwest Coast and Plains Native artists. Traditionally, Dentalium shells, Porcupine quill and Abalone shell is used to accentuate the beadwork. Deerskin is commonly used to link chokers, watch bands, hairpieces and bolo ties, as it is highly elastic and very soft to the skin.

Bentwood Box

The Bentwood Box is a uniquely fabricated container in which a single plank of wood is grooved or kerfed where corners are desired. The wood is made pliable with heat and moisture and bent to form a four-sided shape. Wooded pegs or laces then secure the two ends. Then the box shape is attached to a bottom piece of wood, which has been grooved on its edges to fit. The top, which is optional, is also grooved to fit the sides.

The First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, including parts of southern Alaska, Western British Columbia and Southern Washington, traditionally produced bentwood Boxes.

These boxes and chests were used as storage containers, sometimes crafted to be watertight, they could hold hot rocks and water for cooking. Highly decorated boxes are considered symbols of wealth. They range in size from small, measuring inches, to large enough to provide seating.

Button Blankets

Ceremonial robes and their associated regalia have been among the most spectacular creations of the Northwest Coast natives. Traditionally, these robes were worn during dance ceremonies. The dancer would move across the longhouse displaying the intricate patterns of the Abalone shell buttons to the audience in attendance. The community would know the dancer’s family clan and its historical status just by the design on the robe. In modern times, these robes are still worn at dances and important ceremonies where the dancer or speaker gives forth a sense of spiritual power, prestige and respect.

Ceremonial / Chilkat Blanket

A Kwagiulth blanket, worn as a robe by the Potlatch dancer with the Thunderbird mask, adorned with a Thunderbird pattern of Abalone shells.
Kwagliuth ceremonial 'button blankets' - with crests of pearl and shell buttons - are derived from what was a new variation of weaving by Kwakiutl women in the early 19th century: the Chilkat blanket. Rectangular textile woven of mountain goat’s wool woven on a loom and composed of highly abstracted crest designs in blue, yellow, white, and black, with a long heavy white fringe around the hem; this new tradition supplanted the earlier Sea Otter robes and fine furs. Only those blankets of Tlingit (Alaska) ancestry could claim to be Chilkat. Such blankets were highly valued up and down the coast where they were traded in a lively cross-cultural economy revolving around regular potlatch.

Common Seagrass

Common Sweetgrass is a reddish-based perennial with slender, creeping rhizomes and leafy stems 30 to 50 mm fall. Sweetgrass is widespread in British Columbia, but seldom abundant.

Aboriginal Use

The sweet, lingering fragrance of Common Sweetgrass is due to the presence of coumarin, a fragrant crystalline compound that was once used commercially in flavouring. First Peoples throughout North America appreciated Sweetgrass for its scent. In coastal British Columbia, such as the Kitloope River valley, it was apparently used by some Haisla women to make baskets. They gathered the grass in May and June when it was about 30 cm tall.

Copper

The 'Copper' was used by the First Nations people as a form of money and wealth. It was made out of 'indigenous' copper which was found in the land where they lived, and superficially resembled a shield. Considered very rare and hard to obtain, raw copper was traded from the Athabaskan Indians in the Interior Plains, or from the white man in later times.

Coppers were beaten into shape and usually painted or engraved with traditional designs. Most Coppers were fairly large, often 2 to 3 feet tall and a foot across.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Copper is that they were given names so that their worth and heritage could be passed on. A Copper was only worth what it was last traded for, and it could only be traded for a larger amount the next time around. Consequently, some Copper values became highly valuable - worth the total of 1,500 to 2,000 blankets, a couple of war canoes and hundreds of boxes and bowls.

No matter what the original value was the next person who wanted it had to trade more in exchange for it. Only the richest and most powerful could afford the price of an old Copper. Many Coppers were in rather shabby condition as a result of having been used in quarrels between Chiefs.

To the Kwakiutl, the ownership and display of a Copper became an essential for the proper conduct of a marriage or important dance ritual.

A man whose family’s honour had been injured by the actions of remarks of another would publicly have a piece cut from a valuable Copper and give the piece to the offender. That person was obligated to cut or 'break' a Copper in return. The broken pieces could be brought up and joined into a new Copper or used to replace pieces missing from a 'broken' one.

The most valuable Kwakiutl Coppers tend to be rough and patched since they have the longest history and have been broken the most often. Coppers that have been broken have a certain prestige value that is quite independent from their monetary value.

Cowichan Knit

Genuine Cowichan knits are made from raw sheep’s wood which contains most of its original lanolin. This makes it water-resistant, much longer wearing and superior to industrial processed wool. The wool has natural hues of white, gray and black and is not dyed. Native artists hand-card, spin and knit the wool in a variety of traditional designs.

Washing instructions: To wash your Cowichan knits, use lukewarm water, just a little cooler than your hand. Add a small amount of wool soap or a minute amount of mild detergent and mix well. If too much soap is used, you will wash out the lanolin that makes the knit waterproof. Gently squeeze the water through the soiled parts of the garment and rinse in two or three waters of the same temperature. Squeeze out the water and roll in a bath towel to eliminate as much water as possible, stretch into shape and lay flat to dry.

Eel-grass

Common Eel-grass is a perennial with long, flexible ribbon-like leaves and fleshy rhizomes. It has flat bright-green leaves that are more than 32 mm wide. It occurs in marine bays in mud or sand in the intertidal zone and is common along the British Columbia coast. After a storm, Eel-grass is often seen washed up on the beaches.

Aboriginal Use

The Nuu-chah-nulth used the leaves to imbricate baskets and hats. After bleaching the leaves in the sun to a bright white, they would use them as is or dye them any colour they required for a basket pattern.

The Kwakwaka'wakw wove belts and baskets from Common Eel-grass, but these would have not been very strong.

Indian Hemp

Indian Hemp is an erect, bushy herbaceous perennial that grows up to 1 metre tall, with smooth, often reddish stems. It has many opposite, finely pointed, elliptical to lance-shaped leaves, 5 to 11 cm long; they are yellowish green, turning golden yellow in the fall. Indian Hemp is common in the valleys and lower slopes of the southern interior of British Columbia.

Indian Hemp was without doubt the most important source of plant fibre for First Peoples of the southern interior. A good, several-ply Indian Hemp rope is said to have the equivalent strength of a modern rope of a few hundred kilograms test weight. Even the thinnest of threads is difficult to break with the hands. When stored properly, Indian Hemp fibre will keep for many years without deteriorating. Its natural colour is a light tan, almost white.

Indian Hemp was used to sew moccasins, clothing, baskets, birch bark canoes and Cattail mats, and to weave garments, baby bedding and bags. They often wove Indian Hemp with other plant fibres, such as Tule stems and the bark of Silverberry, willow and sagebrush; in making garments, they sometimes spun it with deer hair.

Ojibway Basketry

This form of basketry is mainly woven from sweet grass, birch bark and Porcupine quills. Traditionally, it was a craft perfected by the Ojibway women but today there are no boundaries. This task requires undivided patience and skill; therefore, only the mature and experienced weavers have mastered this art.

At one time, this art was in serious jeopardy of being lost forever. However, with the resurgence of Native arts and crafts exemplifying the highest quality and intricacy, there are now many basket weavers intent on keeping the tradition alive.

Rattle

Along with drums, rattles are the predominant percussive instruments used in shamanistic and ceremonial contexts. Rattles appear in a variety of shapes and sizes, and are often finely carved or painted. Representations of rattles sometimes appear in the art, particularly in the grasp of shamans, chiefs, and dancers.

A Raven rattle - carved in the shape of a bird - generally indicates a chiefly or high-ranking figure. A shaman's rattle is often double sided, symbolising life and death, or the veil between the human and spirit worlds. Traditionally, rattles and their noises may contain magic. The sound of rattles is used to calm and tame wild dancers in some ceremonial performances.

Slough Sedge

Sedges are fibrous-rooted; often rhizomatous herbaceous plans that resemble grasses in overall aspect. Slough Sedge is relatively large sedge, growing in dense clumps, with long, creeping rhizomes and coarse, stout stems mostly 60 to 150 cm tall, with conspicuous reddish-brown basal membranes. It grows west of the Coast and Cascade mountains from Haida Gwaii to Vancouver Island and adjacent mainland; it is one of the most common and widely distributed lowland sedges in the western part of British Columbia.

Aboriginal Use

First Peoples used several kinds of sedges, but Slough Sedge is certainly the most widely used on the coast.

South Sledge was, and still is, a popular basket material for the Nuu-chah-nulth on the west coast of Vancouver Island, as well as the Sechelt and Coast Salish peoples. The Hesquiat people, north of Tofino [on Vancouver Island] are making a concerted effort to revive and preserve the many facets of their cultural heritage, including weaving with 'Swamp Grass'.

The Hesquiat, Ahousaht and other Nuu-chah-nulth people use a twining process to create the finest baskets and hats from this 'grass', often with cedar bark foundations. They make intricate patterns and designs by weaving in dyed strands of sedge or by superimposing dyed or naturally coloured materials over the regular weave. They weave many styles and sizes of baskets, the most common being round with a flat bottom and fitted lid. After the coming of Europeans it became a widespread practice to weave around bottles and dishes in less traditional forms; synthetic dyes of the brightest hue have almost entirely replaced the soft tones of natural dyes in the designs.

The Squamish, Sechelt, Haida and other coastal groups also used Slough Sedge for weaving, and employed other sedges as well.

Soapstone

Soapstone has replaced ivory as the most popular carving material in contemporary Inuit art. This has led not only to a greater variety of colours and forms, but to the larger size of many modern Inuit sculptures as well.

Although the generic term 'soapstone' is commonly used, this is slightly misleading. Soapstone is a soft talc Steatite and is not used nearly as much as the harder Serpentine, Serpentinite, Siltstone, Argillite, Dolomite, Quartz and other types of materials.

Stone is the most versatile carving material available since it can be worked to almost any size and shape. Its colours range from rather subtle grey to luscious semi-precious green, white, blue-green, blacks, etc.

Often short in supply, artists must travel great distances over land or by boat to quarry good quality stone. Once the materials are obtained, carving proceeds in a fairly straightforward manner with the necessary skills passed down through many generations.

Most sculptures are still carved with hand tools, using saws, axes, adzes, hammers and chisels for the initial roughing out stages. Then files, rasps, steel wool and sandpaper are used for fine work and finishing, while penknives or nails may be used for detailed incising.

Talking Sticks

The speaker or orator uses the talking stick when it is their turn to speak or make an important announcement. The stick is carved with crest figures and ornamented. During the Potlatch Ceremony, this was a representation of the property to be given away.

By touching the stick, the guests formally indicated their acceptance of amount. The heralds who went from house to house to invite people to events carried other staffs, such as Gwispeck.

Tea Dolls

Prior to the 1950's, the Labrador Innu bands were migratory. When the Innu people of Sheshatshui, Labrador travelled to the hunting grounds, everyone was expected to carry his or her share of the load. The children carried their share by bringing along a doll that held a reserve of tea.

Tea dolls bodies are sewn of plain broadcloth and faces and hands are usually of smoked-tanned caribou skin with embroidered features. The body is filled with approximately two pounds of loose tea.

The appearance of tea dolls is quite impressive, as they display jet black yarn hair under traditional style mats made from contrasting colours of stroud with beaded trim. The underclothing is made of flannelette. Moccasins are sewn from soft home-smoked caribou skin.

When the lady of the camp needed to remove the tea, the doll could be re-stuffed with grass or leaves.

Today people are interested in buying the doll so they can proudly display a treasured item to remind them of an era past.

Totem Poles

Totem Pole is the name given by Europeans to the carved wooden pillars made by Native peoples of the Northwest Coast.

The word 'totem' refers to a symbolic relationship existing between natural phenomena (usually animals) and humans. The idea is that differences existing in nature are used to represent for differences among various groups of kin. Just as Bears differ from Eagles and Wolves, so do people of different kin groups from one another. When the Northwest Coast person says, 'I am Bear', he means that he belongs to a kinship group that has a legendary relationship with the Bear. However, this does not mean that he considers himself like a Bear, or that he has Bear characteristics, rather he’s making a statement about his group membership.

The figures on a Totem Pole are visual statements about group membership and identity of those who erected them. These symbols are called 'crests'. The begins represented on the Poles are those figures from mythical times who were encountered by the ancestors of that group who later took them as their 'crests'. Thus, some Northwest Coast families claim the Thunderbird as a crest who descended from the sky to take off his animal clothing and became their human ancestor.

Totem Poles are usually erected at Potlatches (gift giving ceremonies) at which time they told stories pertaining to the crests displayed on the Pole, and the right of the family to claim the crests were publicly witnessed.

Tule (Bulrush)

Tule is a stout, rhizomatous perennial, usually 1 to 3 metres tall, which often grows in wetlands in dense colonies. Widespread in British Columbia in appropriate habitats [marshes and swampy ground], especially in the central and southern interior, where it often forms extensive colonies around alkali lakes.

Aboriginal Use

Tule was, and still is, an important mat-making material for many of British Columbia's aboriginal peoples, especially the Coast and Interior Salish. The Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka''wakw, Carrier and Ktunaxa also used it.

The Okanagan made large bags from Tule twined with various other fibres, including Silverberry bark, willow bark or Indian Hemp, using them to store dried roots, berries and fish. They also made Tule headdresses for aboriginal doctors.

The Nuu-chah-nulth made baskets, basket lids, and recently, handles for shopping bags from Tule. They also used Tule [American Bulrush], which some people called 'Sweetgrass', as the foundation for their tightly twined trinket baskets. The weaving strands for these are Slough Sedge, Bear grass and, recently, Raphia leaves.

Western Paper Birch

A small to medium deciduous tree, Paper Birch can grow up to 20 metres tall. The bark, when mature, is reddish-brown to chalky white, usually peeling readily in horizontal strips and separating into thin layers. Usually found in moist open woods along streams and lake edges from valley bottoms to moderate elevations in the mountains.

Aboriginal Use

The bark of Paper Birch, which can be peeled off the tree in large, flexible sheets, was as important to the First Peoples of the interior as the bark of Western Red Cedar was to coastal peoples. It could be stripped off at any time of the year, but was said to peel most easily in late spring and early summer when the sap was running.

Certain peoples, such as the Secwepemc, Gitxsan and Wet-suwet'en, are famous for their skill in working with birch bark. Their baskets were widely traded among the peoples of the interior and, today, are commonly sold in gift shops.

Women constructed baskets by making four diagonal cuts, two from each edge, towards the middle of a rectangular sheet of bark. They folded the sheet into a box like shape, with the cuts directed towards the bottom corners and the edges coming together to form side seams. In accordance with the natural tendency of the bark to curl outward when peeled off the tree, the whitish outer surface of the bark formed the inside of the basket and the reddish-brown inner surface formed the basket's exterior. The women sewed the side seams, usually with split-cedar roots, spruce roots or willow bark, and then bound or stitched to the top a circular hoop of the same material or of Saskatoon Berry, willow, cedar, Red-osier Dogwood or some other flexible wood. Finally, they caulked the seams with pitch, and sometimes etched designs - some of them very intricate - on the outer surface. Some basket makers used strips of Bitter Cherry or Pin Cherry bark to make decorative patterns around the rims of the baskets. The women made birch bark containers in a variety of sizes and used them in berry picking, for storing food, for boiling food with hot rocks and even for packing water.

Western Red Cedar

Western red cedar is a large tree - up to 70 metres tall and 4.3 metres in trunk diameter – is a dominant tree in moist forest habitats along the coast from Vancouver Island to Alaska. The bark is thin, greyish outside and reddish-brown inside, and longitudinally ridged and fissured; it is easy to pull off in long fibrous strips. The wood is light, aromatic, straight-grained and rot-resistant.

Aboriginal Use

Of all the plants used as materials by British Columbia's First Peoples, Western red cedar is without doubt the most widely employed and the most versatile. The light-grained wood is rot-resistant, and easy to split and work. All coastal groups use it, and to a lesser extent, so did the interior groups who lived within the range of the tree. On the coast, red cedar was used to the exclusion of almost all other trees.

Before European contact, aboriginal people rarely felled cedar trees. Instead, they harvested fallen logs or split boards from standing trees. Felling a tree was a laborious task, usually undertaken by men. They cut around the base with adzes and chisels, or sometimes burned the trunk at the bottom until the tree toppled.

Coastal groups, such as the Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwaka’wakw, for lashings and for making nets, baskets, hats and mats, used cedar roots; however, the Salish people, especially those of the interior, were by far the greatest users of the roots. The coiled split-cedar-root baskets of these peoples are world famous. The foundation coils of these baskets were made of inner cedar bark, cedar-root bark, bundles of split cedar root or thin cedar sapwood, and were completely covered and, at the same time, stitched tightly together by stands of split cedar-root. So closely were they sewn together that the baskets were watertight, serving equally well as berry containers, water carriers or cooking vessels.

Basket makers decorated their baskets by a process known as imbrication, in which strips of material such as Bitter Cherry bark (naturally red or dyed black) and Reed Canary Grass stalks are superimposed over the basic cedar to produce beautiful geometric designs and patterns of plant and animal motifs.

The most valuable part of red cedar bark was the fibrous inner portion. It was used virtually by every group that had access to the tree, but especially the coastal peoples. They split the inner bark into strips for weaving open- and closed-work baskets, bags, hats, mats (for walls, floors, and mattresses), capes, and blankets (although yellow cedar bark was usually preferred for the last two items). They carefully pounded the twisted it into strong to make shaman’s and dancer’s ceremonial head rings, neck rings, armbands and belts, to make fishing lines, ropes, harpoon lines, animal snares, and nets, and for threading clams and fish for drying. They used finely shredded inner bark to decorate masks, to make brooms, paint brushes, work aprons, skirts, capes and dance costumes, to use as tinder, napkins, towelling, bandaging, diapers and infant bedding, and to cover the hands of drummers during winter dances. In some areas people used larger pieces of inner bark to make canoe bailers, spoons and storage bags.

Western White Pine

White Pine is a slender, attractive, medium-sized tree, growing 30 to 60 metres tall. The needles grow in bundles of five; they are bluish-green, slender and 5 to10 cm long. These trees can be found on Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland.

Aboriginal Use

White Pine wood is light, moderately strong and durable, but was seldom used in carving or construction. But the Manhousaht (Nuu-chah-nulth) used it to make long needles for mat making. The Secwepemc, Ktunaxa and Arrow Lakes Okanagan peeled off the bark in large sheets and used it to make storage baskets and small canoes. People made pine-bark baskets in the same fashion as those of birch bark, stitching them with roots and strengthening the tops with a twisted with rim. The Sechelt sometimes used White Pine pitch for waterproofing.

Today, the long pine needles are being used to create new styles of baskets and vases.

Yellow Cedar

Yellow cedar is a large tree, usually 20 to 40 metres tall and 90 cm or more in diameter. The bark is think and greyish-brown, tending to shed in long narrow shaggy strips. The wood is yellowish and pungent smelling. Commonly found in coastal subalpine forests from Vancouver Island to Alaska, mostly west of the Cascade and Coastal mountains.

Aboriginal Use

Virtually all coastal First Peoples carved implements from the yellow cedar’s tough, straight-grained wood. The inner bark of yellow cedar has the same fibrous qualities as that of red cedar, but it is considered even more valuable because it is finer, softer and lighter in colour when dry. It was pulled off the trees in long strands and split and dried much like red cedar bark.

People along the coast used the prepared bark for cordage and for weaving blankets, capes and other items of clothing; they preferred it to red cedar bark because of its softness. They often interwove or trimmed yellow cedar bark with duck down, Mountain Goat wool or Black Bear fur. The Chilkat Tlingit people of Alaska wove their famous Chilkat blankets with Mountain Goat wool over strands of yellow cedar bark. People all along the coast also used yellow cedar bark for weaving mats and hats, as well as for decorating masks. They also shredded the bark to make bandages and 'wash cloths' for babies, and to use as tinder.

ATLAKIM

The Atlakim, the Dance of the Forest Spirits, is one of the four main dances that are part of the Winter Ceremony of the Kwakwaka’wakw. In it, a group of up to forty masked dancers (usually 26 men and 14 women) bring treasures from the forest. Most of the masks have large areas covered with white paint and feature forest motifs and materials. The masks include people, animals, forest spirits, ghosts and supernatural beings, such as Grouse, Long Life Bringer, Nulamal, Frog Woman, Woman Giving Birth, Bullhead and Mimic. Some of them, such as Hok-Hok, Crooked-Beak, Raven, and Rich Woman, also appear in other dances.

Caring For Your Drum

Both plain or painted rawhide drums may be cared for in the same way. Allow a drum to be played using only fingers, hands or beaters that are padded at the tip. Striking with an unpadded stick can crack or even puncture some skinheads.

Drums may be protected from scratches and damage from the elements when travelling by using a drum bag, wrapping in a blanket or providing other similar type care.

They will change in tone as a result of fluctuating humidity and/or temperature. Drums sound their best within the same humidity and temperature range comfortable to most people.

In the cool Maritime climates, similar to the Pacific Coast, drums and rattles should not be stored or displayed close to the floor or in trunks where they will draw moisture.

A drum that becomes too cool or damp will loosen and the tone dulls. It should not be played until re-tightened through warming. Never attempt to tighten a drumhead by pouring hot water over it or putting it close to an open flame. This will cause the head to become brittle and crack. Avoid putting a drum close to any heat source than what would be comfortable to your own skin.

Drums needing re-tightening should be warmed gently and slowly. A drum that is only slightly dull may be warmed by gently rubbing the head in a circular motion from the center out with an open bare hand for a few minutes. Indoors, turning up the heat works. If travelling, you could use a vehicle heater.

Exposure to extreme conditions, such as hot dry summer days, very dry Winter conditions or sunlight passing through a window will cause a drumhead to shrink and tighten too quickly, perhaps excessively. This will result in a higher pitched, even tinny, sound. Even worse, a drum’s lacings may break under such conditions, the head may become brittle and crack or the frame may warp.

To avoid damage under conditions of extreme temperature and low humidity, moisture can be added to the air by using a humidifier or teapot. Moisture may be applied directly to the drum by wiping the head with a lightly dampened cloth. Where such climatic conditions are the norm, as in areas of Alaska and Arizona, an animal or vegetable oil may be lightly applied to the lacing and/or drumhead (on the inside for a single head) to allow it more flexibility.

Shade any drum displayed in direct sunlight.

Proper care aids in the usefulness and extends the life of all natural materials.

Techniques of Basketry

Coiling:

Coiling is the technique of stitching over a foundation and attaching rows of work together as the stitching progresses to form the basketry structure. The two elements used are the foundation, or core, and the sewing material. The foundation forms the base over which the stitching is one, and the stability of this element holds the shape of the work. Successive wraps over the foundation are made with the sewing material, which fastens back into or around one or more of the foundations or catches into the stitches of the former row to hold the work together.

Twining:

Weft twining in its simplest form is weaving two weft strands horizontally across a series of vertical warps. Each of the warp strands is enclosed by the wefts, which cross over each other or twist together between the warps. Many variations of this interlacement are possible. It is difficult to draw the line between twining that is cloth and twining that is basketry. Certainly, a Chilkat blanket would be considered a fabric. It is supple and fabric-like in hand. Twining that is stiff enough to hold its own shape usually falls in the basket category.

Wickerwork and Splintwork:

Basket categories are not consistent. Coiled and twined baskets are groups according to technique, but wickerwork and splint work are classed by material of which the baskets are made. Wickerwork refers to baskets made of any of the various reeds; splint work, to baskets woven of splints. Plain weave and twill weave are common to both categories, but twining is used only in wickerwork, because splints are too rigid to make the twists required for twining.

Plaiting:

Plaiting is a general term that is used in basketry for the interlacements of plain weave, twill weave, and some pattered weaves that are usually woven with flat strands of equal width.

The Legend of the Dreamcatcher

A spider was quietly spinning his web in his own space. It was beside the sleeping place of Nokomis, the grandmother. Each day Nokomis watched the spider at work, quietly spinning away. One day, as she was watching him, her grandson came in. “Nokomis-ilya!” he shouted, glancing at the spider. He stomped over to the spider, picked up a shoe and went to hit it. “No-Keegwa”, the old lady whispered, “Don’t hurt him”. “Nokomis, why do you protect the spider?” asked the little boy. The old lady smiled, but did not answer. When the boy left, the spider went to the old woman and thanked her for saving his life. He said to her, “For many days you have watched me spin and weave my web. You have admired my work. In return for saving my life, I will give you a gift.” He smiled his special spider smile and moved away, spinning as he went. Soon the moon glistened on a magical silvery web moving gently in the window. “See how I spin?” he said. “See and learn, for each web will snare bad dreams. Only good dreams will go through the small hole. This is my gift to you. Use it so that only good dreams will be remembered. The bad dreams will be come hopelessly caught, entangled in the web forever”.