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Cedar bark weaving comes from deep roots


Malcolm McColl, Raven's Eye Writer, ALERT BAY, B.C.







Occasionally we walk into museums or stores and come across an example of the cedar bark weaving common to the Pacific Coast peoples, and we get a glimpse of their magnificent civilizations.
Kerri-Lynne Emily Dick, 26, is a master weaver in the tradition of the Haida, Kwaguilth, Tlingit, and Kootenay peoples.
To her, cedar weaving comes to her as naturally as breathing.
"That's basically 26 years spent immersed in the Haida and Kwaguilth culture," she said. "I personally would never call it a cultural revival. It still existed because of strong families and strong lineages."
Cedar weaving was a part of Kerri's life from the beginning.
"My mother took me out to gather roots. We'd be on the beach and she showed me where to start and how to pull the root, and we'd end up with 40 or 60 feet of root."
Then there was cedar bark stripping.
"It occurs in the late spring and summer seasons. You strip the bark when it's warm, because the sap is running. In winter it's solid and breaks. We did most of the weaving in the cold months. I remember in the winter that was the big thing. In the winter we potlatch and in the summer collect weaving material.
"The first time I learned to weave I was eight years old living in Prince Rupert."
Kerri was introduced to a Tsimshian woman who knew how to make cedar bark baskets.
"My mother asked her to teach me."
Kerri trekked over after school.
"I made one basket and she told me 'You have to go out and buy a bunch of cedar and do it yourself.'
I thought to myself, 'Buy cedar?'"
Cedar is the tree of life. The magic of Kwakwaka'wakw culture and the rest of the rainforest nationalities in North America's Pacific region is their incredible horticulture of cedar groves. It is proven they practiced advanced trans-generational management of cedar, creating surplus bark by harvesting from living trees, according to anthropologists.
Kerri was a young girl who "thought it was bizarre that she suggested cedar bark was something you buy." The sacred cedar was something youÝgather.
"When you strip bark from the living tree, you take a hand-width, only as much as your own hands can work with."
Her mother moved back to the Queen Charlottes where Kerri's learning continued at a vigorous pace.
"I have to mention my teachers and mentors. Willy White, Primrose Adams, April Churchill, Evelyn Vanderhoof and Donna Cranmer were instrumental in encouraging me to develop the skill."
Willy White "is a fast-black-weaver, a member of a society of weavers who have come back from the past," said Kerri. "People are born into it. They get the weaver's bug and immerse themselves in it." They enter a supernatural world.
"It is important to be careful about spirit when you weave. I like to push it to a certain point and I know the energy is still in the cedar. I become 'yolakwamae' and that means entranced or hypnotized in Kwakwala."
By the time Kerri was 20 she taught cedar bark weaving in Kingcome Inlet. She showed pictures of weavers at work and one young student noticed how closely people worked together. The kids in her class wanted to take their knowledge to another level.
"The kids decided to utilize an old big house and they cleaned it up and cleared out a lot of debris."
She had several serious students.
"I've always been an immaculate weaver and some people wanted me to keep it a secret, but I wanted to hand it down to the generations. It's not about money, and it's not about popularity. It's about how many generations this knowledge will extend into the future. To be remembered by my students and family is my payment."
For more information about Kerri-Lynne Emily Dick's cedar bark hat and Chikat blanket weaving at the www.umista.org in Alert Bay, B.C.