Weavers share traditional knowledge, stories behind textiles

Meghann O’Brien talks about her pieces during a break from the weavers’ presentation Wednesday at the Walter Soboleff Building.

Artisans from Southeast Alaska and British Columbia displayed blankets, aprons and other items Wednesday at a weaving presentation.

Weavers and weaving historians were among the about 50 people who attended the event in the Shuka Hit clan house in the Walter Soboleff Building.

One presenter, Della Cheney, stressed the importance of learning those traditions.

“There’s those things that I enjoy about our ways of life that are so rich and so dynamic because it’s life,” said Cheney, who is Haida and Tlingit. “It’s our way of life that creates these things that are with us today.”

This was her second year presenting at Celebration. Cheney hopes communities invest more in cultural education.

“We have to find ways to teach our families and continue our way of life and help our self be economically present in our own communities with the things we make and the way we live so … we can celebrate our way and be who we are, Tlingit, Haidas and Tsimshian people.”

Kwakwaka’wakw and Haida weaver Meghann O’Brien of Alert Bay, British Columbia, first started weaving in 2007, making baskets to collect berries.

“I really consider spending time on the land harvesting food to be the main source of where it came from for me. I think that’s where it came from for our people, too, is just for a really practical purpose.”

She later had several mentors who helped teach her different styles, including her Ravenstail teacher William White.

“When he opened the door for that and began teaching me the techniques, I felt really honored and privileged and that the knowledge was so sacred,” O’Brien said. “My personal thing that I’m more drawn to is much more utilitarian. I just really like the plain work baskets more than anything. I just think being able to use things is really important.”

O’Brien was attending her first Celebration.

“Even just at this gathering with the few presenters who are here, the different teachings we’ve received, the similarities and differences between those, there’s a lot of similarities obviously,” she said. “It feels very close to this place. It just feels very close to that handing of knowledge that occurred with Jennie Thlunaut. And it’s really powerful and really special.”

Thlunaut mentored Clarissa Rizal, a Chilkat and Ravenstail weaver who died in December 2016.

Editor’s note: 360 North is under contract with Sealaska Heritage Institute to produce television and online video coverage of Celebration.