A LOOK BACK: The culture of Nuu-chah-nulth basket making

Take a peek at Alberni Valley history with Alberni Valley Museum

Mary Chester sits on a log on a beach preparing grasses for making baskets. In this photo, one of a series in the Alberni Valley Museum’s digital archives, she is holding and turning a tool over a plate. The AV Museum has an extensive exhibit on Indigenous baskets and prominent Nuu-chah-nulth makers. See more at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com. (PHOTO PN03464 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)

Grass and cedar bark weaving is a traditional art in Nuu-chah-nulth culture, historically among women. Forest resources were used for materials and dyes; woven baskets and hats were part of the coastal First Nations economy and remain both functional and ceremonial.

Cedar symbolizes strength, says Joseph Tom, a Nuu-chah-nulth elder and senior cultural worker for Quu?asa Program in Port Alberni. Each strand of cedar that is woven into cedar rope, for example, creates a combined strength in that rope.

The museum has several different photos of resident Mary Chester depicting the process of making baskets. Chester used traditional methods to dye grasses by immersing them in a container of water and other natural substances over a fire.

The Alberni Valley Museum has an extensive display of Indigenous baskets in its museum, featuring several prominent basket makers from Nuu-chah-nulth history as well as actual baskets from different makers and sources. The exhibit includes items such as whalers’ hats (known as “Maquinna” hats in honour of Chief Maquinna) and “burden baskets”—large split cedar baskets that could be worn on one’s back and were used to collect things like firewood, fruit or fish.

All items are listed in a multi-volume visible storage catalogue titled Grass and Cedar Bark Basketry.

This photo is one of nearly 24,000 in the Alberni Valley Museum’s collection. See more at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com/

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional DistrictFirst NationshistoryMuseumPort Alberni

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