Accepted Paper:

Listening - The Fabric of Our Land: Salish Weaving  


Susan Rowley (University of British Columbia)

Paper short abstract:

What happens when museums listen? In 2015 Wendy John (Musqueam) asked the Museum of Anthropology at UBC to bring early Salish weavings from far-flung museum collections home for a visit. This paper discusses the resulting exhibit The Fabric of Our Land: Salish Weaving (Nov. 19, 2017-April 15, 2018).

Paper long abstract:

"…, I know how [to weave], but I might get in trouble, you know?" (Mary Peters [Seabird Island] to Oliver Wells [settler] ca. 1961 recounted by Rena Point Bolton [Skowkale] in 2016).

Colonization has had the same devastating impact on Salish weaving as it has on countless Indigenous practices. Mass-produced Hudson's Bay Company blankets replaced hand-woven creations. Introduced diseases devastated communities. The reserve system and prejudicial regulations constrained access to resources. Government assimilationist policies, including residential schools, disrupted knowledge transmission from one generation to the next. And an imposed international border between Canada and the United States separated family ties.

In 1885, Canada banned Indigenous ceremonies under the anti-potlatch provisions of the Indian Act. This ban remained in effect until 1951. Indigenous communities found ways to keep their cultures alive. Salish leaders proudly wore their blankets as symbols of authority and status. Ceremonies continued where family's demonstrated their wealth by distributing mountain goat wool blankets.

The resilience and strength of weavers through quiet acts of active resistance kept Salish weaving alive. Revitalization has been a slow but powerful force, radiating outward from many centres. Museums as the holders of the only examples of early Salish weaving play an ongoing role in this re-awakening. The Fabric of Our Land: Salish Weaving exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia grew out of the desire of contemporary weavers to demonstrate respect for and to reconnect with the works of their ancestors.

Panel P015
Breaking the Silence: Heritage Objects and Cultural Memory