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Weaving Our Way Into Reconciliation

Sunday's weaving session with Chex̱imiya is one of three events taking place on Bowen this week to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day
Cheximiya dance print(1)
Chex̱imiya dancing.

“Weaving is a huge passion for me,” says Chex̱imiya, a master weaver who will be sharing her passion with islanders on Sunday, June 26 in a Knowing Our Place event at the Cove Commons.

Chex̱imiya, a member of the Squamish Nation, learned to weave in 2008 when she began working at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler. She is mostly self-taught. “It’s been an amazing journey for me,” she says. “Pushing the boundaries with Salish weaving is my goal. And since 2010, I’ve been teaching people from all around the world in workshops through the cultural centre and other art centres.”

“Pre-contact, we harvested wool from mountain goats and woolly dogs, known as Salish Dogs, which no longer exist. We also incorporated down feathers and plant materials. We had many skilled weavers. Only certain families carried the teachings.”

Materials could be harvested over several years before starting to spin, then dye and weave. “Design aspects and math were involved. With the arrival of the Hudson’s Bay Company, our people could trade for their blankets, and our cultural weaving was almost lost.”

Chex̱imiya is grateful for the work of Chief Janice George and her husband, Buddy Joseph, who revived the art form. “I’m pleased to say I completed a 1-on-1 mentorship with Master Weaver, Chief Janice George, and the finished garment is currently on display in the museum at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. Today we have over 200 weavers and always growing.”

Chex̱imiya was born off-reserve, as was her mother. This goes back to her grandmother who lost her status because she married a non-Indigenous man — one of the many egregious aspects of the Indian Act, which discriminated against Indigenous women. An amendment to the Act in 1985, made it possible for women to return to the reserve with their children.

“I love being on the reserve, being with my community. I was fighting to be part of my nation so I could be buried with my people on our reserve land.”

If you watched the Opening Ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, you may have seen her dancing on stage — in regalia she helped make — during the welcoming of the world’s athletes.

Thanks to a Heritage Canada Grant, Chex̱imiya will come to the island with a loom already set up and some weaving started at the top. She will talk about the ancient and modern history of Squamish wool weaving, as she teaches us the twill technique of diagonal weaving — one of the most used techniques.

Under her guidance, participants will take turns adding to the weave. She will also bring a few small sample looms for people to practice on individually. The weaving we make together will remain on display at the Bowen Island Library.

Many thanks to the Library and the Arts Council for their ongoing support since I approached them in 2017 with the idea for this Knowing Our Pace reconciliation initiative. June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day and we have organized two other programs for this celebration: an evening of short films on June 21, and Storytime with Kung Jaadee, June 22. For more information and to register:

Two years ago, at the blessing ceremony of the Nexwlélexwm sign at the ferry landing, Squamish Elder, Dennis Joseph, spoke in what was a very emotional moment for me. He reflected on how the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation and islanders were “building a mighty bridge together.”

People of all ages are invited to drop in to the Cove Commons (the Gallery and Library Annex spaces) on June 26 at 2 pm to join Chex̱imiya as we weave together a small, beautiful piece of reconciliation.