For illustrations of basket weaving, see Dorothy Kennedy and Randy Bouchard, Sliammon Life, Sliammon Lands (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1983), 76-78.
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Trading was a big part of our lives, in my grandparents’ lives. Whether it be trading to non-Native people for other goods or for other food and goods, but also to other First Nations communities where they had different types of food to trade for our goods. So that was, I guess, part of our survival. And also appreciation for other peoples’ goods or whatever they trade for. It’s almost like a part of the social fabric. To go and visit with people and just visit and trade and build relationships. Because there was not an awful lot of money for trading. It was mostly in goods. Whereas in the older day, you know, years back, when they traded with other communities, such as going to Comox or to Campbell River, Cape Mudge, where they would trade mostly for other types of foods, traditional foods that they have there that we don’t have.
That would be, like, eulachon oil – that was quite popular up the coast. Not so much in Sliammon, but the older people here did acquire a taste for it. And it’s something they put in their fish soup, or dipped the dried fish in. It’s almost like a dip. Now that is like gold to them. As it’s so hard to get anymore. It doesn’t come by as easily as it did, you know, fifty years ago. They say it’s very difficult to get now. It’s been depleted or – it’s just not there anymore. But I don’t miss it myself because it’s never been one of my favourites! [laughs]
“It’s almost like a part of the social fabric. To go and visit with people and just visit and trade and build relationships.”
And just other kinds of foods that they had, different types of foods. Or maybe they were more advanced and sometimes it was foods that they had purchased out of the store and that – like canned goods. You know, other types of foods or clothing or bedding or blankets. Whatever! They would bring dried herring, dried herring roe. That was very popular. Dried clams, which had been steamed open and dried, smoked – barbecued by the open fire, then dried. And it’s very, very dry. So when you go to eat it, you have to soak it. Or if not, you can just take it if you’re going on a trip and eat it – it’s quite chewy. So you can chew on a clam for a good hour or whatever.
And then they used to take these dried clams too, my grandparents, when we started going down to the States, or going to Chilliwack area. There used to be a hop field there. I don’t know if it’s still there. But my grandparents used to go there and pick hops for the hop season. And they would bring the dried clams and dried fish and dried herring. And they would sell it to the other people from other communities, such as people coming from that area, the First Nations people from that area? And they have a different way of drying their salmon from up that way. They wind-dry it, whereas ours is smoke-dried. So there would be that trade. Or sometimes they just paid cash for the dried goods that our people brought there.
So there was a lot of trading with foods. Dried berries was another commodity. Dried berries, dried fruits. Any kind of fruit or berries that was harvested. Because there was no deep freeze – it was traditionally dried by sun. Just out in the sun. So, and that was easy to pack too, when you are travelling. You just took some of that along with you. Didn’t take any room at all. So that was one of the things that was used for trading.
As we got to know other people, and shared with them and traded with them, of course they’d become familiar and get to know the other people that are there. They had a lot of friends up and down the coast. Sechelt, going down to Sechelt. Going up to Chilliwack. Going to the Island. So that’s like your extended kind of family kinda thing. There was no such a thing as just your brother, your sister. Everyone was your cousins, or your ʔɑyiš. That’s your relative. That’s your brother, your sister, although they may not be in blood. You still refer to them as your ʔɑyiš. That’s your relative.
Well, the trading just did not apply to foods. There were things like dugout canoes that not everybody was good at – making dugout canoes. So they would trade with whatever they can get – whether it’s labour or someone to help build a house or whatever. And the payment would be in goods like that. Canoes were also looked at as something that was very highly regarded. It had a lot of uses. So if there’s an arranged marriage, quite often what had happened would be the groom’s family would give up a canoe to the young woman’s family. So there’s another trade. And I guess when then modern tools came about, like axe and that, it was very important as a tool, as something that was treasured. And our guns – when the guns came. That was also used for trading for other things.
So in later years going trading with non-Native people – and I remember my grandmother doing this – I used to go with her to sell baskets. She would make a basket or a couple of baskets, and I’d go with her. We’d walk. Just go door to door, and sell baskets. I always remember going down to … when we had to walk to Powell River, right? Before we had cars. And walking to Powell River with my grandparents, going down the hill. So that was our stop for refreshments at that restaurant, the Chinese restaurant in Shinglemill area. And it wasn’t a big meal, but we’d stop, and my grandparents would have coffee. They enjoyed a cup of coffee there, and a piece of pie. And they made good pie – apple pie and raisin pie. Yeah. And this elderly Chinese man would always come and – pretty sure he recognized us all by then – and he’d ask what we wanted: “Coffee?” And “Pie? Lacy pie?” He’d say, “Apple pie? Lacy pie?” [laughs] And my grandfather would always order “lacy” pie. He loved raisin pie. [laughs]
“So I’m pretty sure those baskets have travelled all over the world to a lot of people that have left and gone to wherever they’ve moved to.”
Yeah, and then we’d continue to walk – whatever our business was – to go into Powell River, which was small then. The mill site. Whether it was to go and sell fish or to sell baskets – my grandmother’s baskets that she made and sold in the townsite. There’s a lot of baskets out there. I hear about a lot of baskets – families today have a lot of beautiful baskets. And all the women in the community, that’s what they did. Handwoven baskets from cedar material – cedar roots. My grandmother made beautiful, beautiful baskets. Big baskets. All different sizes and shapes, which took her, you know, days and months to make. And she got next to nothing for them once it’s made and sold in the townsite. So I’m pretty sure those baskets have travelled all over the world to a lot of people that have left and gone to wherever they’ve moved to.
So there was a lot of that here, and that was all part of, I guess, our livelihood. Going to Wildwood area once that was developed, selling baskets, selling fish – or trading with the people there for meat or chicken or vegetables, potatoes, whatever. Or just goods. I remember my granny coming to the Wildwood area – there’s a farmer there. They used to call him “the meat man.” In our language it was “mɩǰɛθ” man. So there would be a trade of things like beef or eggs – just things like that from the farm. Or potatoes. Anything that was negotiable. So that was in later times that I remember, myself – walking from Sliammon to the Wildwood area and sometimes into the townsite to trade with baskets. My granny used to be really good at bartering. She didn’t speak much English, but she knew what to ask for, whether it was men’s clothes or men’s shirts or blankets or whatever. And the lady of the house keep going back in the house – she’d bring back some more articles and, “Okay, okay, yeah. Okay.” Next thing you know she’d have a pile of clothes and a little bit of money – maybe two dollars, maybe five dollars if she was lucky. I don’t think she ever got ten dollars in cash. It was mostly clothing or other goods.
So that’s my memory of trading. And having to walk home – me carrying the goods, helping my grandmother pack this home. And then she would be back to making more baskets.
"Well, you would say, “čʼɛhčʼɛhɑθɛ č.” That’s pretty much what you would say. It’s like humbling yourself and you honour the tree. And you raise your hands. You always raise your hands to the tree and the Creator. čʼɛhčʼɛhɑθɛ č, which means, “I thank you, I honour you.” So you use those words, those gestures.”
You learned by watchin’. You were always brought along. So when the older women went root diggin’, you went along – the children went along. So it was by watchin’. Because every step of the way, everything they did around root diggin’ was really important to pay attention. Such as, first of all when you go to a cedar tree, which is where we got our cedar roots from, is to ask permission before you take the roots from that cedar. You just didn’t go and dig around the tree without any thought or consideration for the life in the tree. ’Cause that’s a living thing to our people. The cedar tree is a living thing. And it’s gonna house you. It’s going to give you the materials you need for basket weaving. It’s going to give you material for building a house, the branches itself – so every part of the cedar was used for different things, such as making a rope or mats and cedar hats and just everything!
“’Cause that’s a living thing to our people. The cedar tree is a living thing.”
There was bailers, and this comes from the inner bark of the cedar, or portion of it. So people didn’t just go out and strip a whole tree. When you wanted just the bark for making bailers, you went out and you just took a strip, and that’s what you used, the inner bark. Because you can only do this in the springtime and through the summer. So probably about August, it’s the end of the season for doing that. ’Cause the tree’s not going to give you its bark anymore, because it – bark becomes very tight. So you knew all this. This was talked about when you’re out there: “This is the time we’re going – we’re preparing for this. We’re going to go out and do this now, while the sap is running.”
And it was the same for the roots. Again, you offer prayers to the Creator and thank the Creator, that you’re going to use this tree. So everything from the branches to the bark, the inner bark, and to the tree itself, the inside of the tree itself. And even the core of the tree is used for when you barbecue salmon or smoke salmon. You use that inner core to hold the fish open when you cut it open and you want to hang it. So you need little sticks to keep it open. Years ago, the clothing came from that tree, like, from the inner bark of the cedar was treated until it was so fine it was like cloth that people used to make garments. A cape or a skirt. That and other things, like hide for clothing. Which was way before my time, but I know the story behind it is that you treat in this way. You don’t abuse it. Don’t take any more than you need. It was always about that. And whatever remnants you have, you don’t leave it laying here or there or whatever. You took care of it, and all your shavings, you gather that and you use it for something else, whether it’s to start the fire – you just don’t discard it and leave it laying about. So everything had its place. And that you took care of that.
And people never really overused. They would just move on and go and gather something else. And move on to something else. And by the time they came back around – it’s like when you’re out in the berry fields. You pick through the berry patch in a really thorough, you know, orderly manner. By the time you come back, the berries are ripe again, new berries are ripe, and you pick and leave the semi-ripe ones there, you don’t take everything. You didn’t take everything. The same as when we went to dig roots to make baskets. You don’t dig all the roots around the tree. You just go and you get little bit, what you’re going to need from that tree. And use that as material for your basket. And you go somewhere else.
“Which was way before my time, but I know the story behind it is that you treat in this way. You don’t abuse it. Don’t take any more than you need. It was always about that.”
So, you know, the ladies would go together. And sometimes the men. My grandfather used to come and help my grandmother. ’Cause it’s hard work digging for those roots, so the men would help go and dig the roots. But a lot of women just did it on their own too. They all went as a group of women and did that. And as they’re doing all these things, it was explained to the children – the process, how important it is to thank the tree, to thank the Creator for putting these resources in front of us so that we could gather them and share the resources with nature. So there was all that, almost like a ceremony as you’re entering into the forest, you thank Creator, thank the land. So anyways, you go to dig. You find a nice patch where there’s big cedar trees, and these were first-growth cedar. And sometimes you had to go deep into the woods to find what you’re looking for. And you say, “I’m gonna borrow some of your roots. Allow me to borrow some of your roots.” And those are the words you say, whatever words comes to your mind: “This is what I need to make a basket.” Well, you would say, “čʼɛhčʼɛhɑθɛ č.” That’s pretty much what you would say. It’s like humbling yourself and you honour the tree. And you raise your hands. You always raise your hands to the tree and the Creator. čʼɛhčʼɛhɑθɛ č, which means, “I thank you, I honour you.” So you use those words, those gestures.
And you start from maybe about fifteen feet, twenty feet away from the tree. Otherwise it’d be really hard, stiff – not pliable. And once you get going, if you were in good ground – the ground has to be so good and sandy soil. Or sometimes they prefer to dig where the tree was up on the hill and it looked like coming down the hill would be nice sandy soil, and that was really the best, ’cause the roots were really straight. Otherwise if you’re digging where it’s rough grounds, then you’ll get gnarled roots and twisted and all that. So you had to find the right place to dig. You can’t go out and dig in the backyard. [laughs] And you dug around the tree, and you just didn’t dig in one spot, but you went around the perimeters of the tree. So you gathered those roots and you explained to the children that are around you why you’re doing this thing and what you need to avoid and don’t step over the roots as you’re diggin’. Once the root is exposed, don’t step over it. ’Cause their belief was that if you stepped over the root it’s going to get twisted, and so you really had to pay attention. You go around, if you have to go around the tree or go further away before you get to where you wanna go, but you don’t ever step over the root that’s exposed. So that’s how important it was and how alive it was for our people. And you would just cut the roots to whatever size you wanted. But first, before you’d dig, the first little bits and pieces of roots – the real thin small little pieces that are just, like, attached to the root itself – you will take some of that and tie it around your wrists, tie it around your waist, or around your neck and it’s like a necklace and they believed that brings the bigger roots to come along. It makes it easier. It’s almost like the bigger roots follow the little roots and therefore you will have access to more roots by doing that. And you just don’t take it and cut it and tie it around yourself. You just say, “You’re gonna help me. You’re gonna bring more roots to me.” So that was really important part of the root diggin’.
So when you got those roots and you take them home and you split them right away. You take the bark off it right away. Otherwise it’ll stick and when it dries it’ll be harder to strip. So you take them home and you do that. And it takes several days, several sittings to get it to where you – where it’s usable for your basket? Because you split it one day, split all the roots you got into bigger pieces. Then another day you will sit down and you will fine down the roots. And the third time you go to handle it, you’re going to make it really fine, and it becomes really soft and to the point that now you can use it to weave your basket . So there’s a lengthy process to preparing the roots.
So then you’ll have your long roots, which could be as long as four feet – three to four feet long in length. And the shorter pieces, where maybe there was a knot or whatever and then you had to cut the knot away, you might have ones that are maybe just a foot long. But those are just as important. So when they are all bundled up, as we’ve seen in the pictures, then they’re bundled nicely and they’re put out to dry. They need to be dried, otherwise they’ll get mouldy if they’re damp. ’Cause your roots have to be damp, they have to be wet, actually, when you’re working with them. So you always have water, a basin of water, and you soak your roots in there. So the short ones then are bundled as well as the long ones, and they could be folded in half and bundled that way.
“And they would just be so proud of it and just feel so good to see those roots hanging as their family, and ‘this family’s come to us.”
And the ladies would say, “Oh, this is the grandpa. This is the long roots. And this is the dad, and this is the mom, and this is the children.” And “Oh! These are the babies!” And the real short ones – so they didn’t throw any of that away because every bit was important. So they would line it up, or hang them on the line to dry as bundled roots drying on the line. And they would just be so proud of it and just feel so good to see those roots hanging as their family, and “this family’s come to us.” So that’s how important the roots were to our people.