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Yah Yahkw Sum | 'It is Woven'


This weeks teaching is being offered by Jenn Smith of Tlowitsis First Nation. Some time ago, I came across a breathtaking picture of Jenn wherein she was wrapped in a beautiful blanket. When I asked her about it, I was captivated by her words and the blanket's history. Jenn has generously offered to share her story with you. In order to provide this knowledge in a way that honours the significance of the blanket, we will be sharing over two #teachingstuesdays. I hope you like it.

"About 350 years ago, my ancestors met a Tsimshian Chief, his two wives and two children on the water somewhere near River’s Inlet. The Tsimshian family may have been traveling to a great Feast because they had their regalia with them. In those days when you wanted something, you just took it – warfare was part of life. Five Chilkat blankets were by taken from the Tsimshian Chief, along with his wives and children.

These five Chilkat blankets have been passed down through the generations of my family and each one has their own story.

History:

The Chilkat blanket is made from mountain goat wool and cedar. Typically, in Tsimshian culture when these woven blankets begin to deteriorate, they are cut up and made into leggings and other pieces of clothing. We as Kwakwaka’wakw People are not weavers; however, because these blankets were taken in warfare they have been passed down through the generations and kept intact. The remaining blankets are very brittle as they are the oldest known Chilkat blankets in existence.

There were three adult blankets and two children’s blankets acquired. In 1910, Rachel Whonnock’s parents lost two children in a house fire. The two children’s blankets were buried with these children on Village Island, which is where they remain.

My Great-Great Uncle Goot-thlat-lahs handed down the three adult blankets to following family members:

* 1 blanket to Moonah (English name, Emma Mabel Bell): Moonah married a Smith from Turnour Island and the blanket was put on him as part of her dowry. The blanket later perished in a house fire on Turnour Island

* 1 blanket to Hum-dzee-dee (English name, Rachel Whonnock): This blanket went into the museum sometime in the 50’s


* 1 blanket to Oodzee-stahl-lees (English name, Henry Bell): My Great-Grandfather had the blanket in his care for 30+ years. In 1975, he went with his daughter (my Great-Auntie) Frances Quocksister and sold it to the Royal BC Museum in Victoria where it now resides. Any of my Great-Grandfather’s descendants have the right to access the Chilkat blanket from the museum for ceremony. The blanket is safest at the museum where it can be properly cared for and preserved for eternity."

Watch for next weeks email, when Jenn will share the way in which her Great-Grandfather Oodzee-stahl-lees worked to keep Kwakwaka'wakw culture alive during the potlach ban, and how his commitment has afforded her family the opportunity to stay connected to their incredible history.


In learning,

Kim at Culturally Committed

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