Marlene King, a recipient of FPCC’s Arts Strengthening grant, shares the powerful moments of reconnecting weavers with community artwork and visiting museums’ back rooms.
Thanks to FPCC’s Arts grant, Marlene King (Nuxalk) was able to create opportunities for weaving mentors to travel to the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology and the Museum of Vancouver to study traditional weaving techniques.
Bringing a group of Nuxalk weavers into the back rooms of museums was deeply meaningful, says Marlene. Witnessing the weavers first touching the cedar bark basketry of their relatives and ancestors, “was an amazing feeling – their faces just lit right up.”
Marlene says visiting the museums was an act of reclamation, explaining that not being allowed, or excluded from colonial institutions, leads to people feeling alienated or “afraid of the museums.” Having the opportunity to spend time hands-on with the cedar bark basketry collections in the museum, the weavers learned techniques they are now sharing forward with youth and Elders whose learning was disrupted by forced attendance at Indian Residential Schools.
Marlene shares the pride that comes from witnessing their ancestors’ workmanship. “We were such craftsmanship people,” she says. “It’s proof of the things that we were able to make and how we were able to survive with the tools that were handmade. And how brilliant our people were.”
That brilliance and craftsmanship is continuing – and growing. The cedar weaving in Bella Coola is in a resurgence, and “getting bigger all the time. We’re getting a new weaver every time we have a workshop,” says Marlene.
As the weavers’ skills strengthen, the works are growing in complexity and artistry.
When two of the women, Mary and Della Mack saw carvings their brother Willie Mack had made, “they recognized the work and it was just tears of joy, and of happiness…it was a feeling like no other,” says Marlene.
Marlene first began weaving four years ago at age 52. She grew up thinking she wasn’t creative at all, but the call to weaving has shown her a new path of self-expression, and working with cedar bark has opened up her sense of the potential for this medium. “Some of the work that you can create with cedar is just amazing, I can do this. Wow.”
Marlene was inspired by her recent Museum of Anthropology Indigenous Museum two-week Internship program at the Haida Museum in Skidegate with Director Jisgang Nika Collison.
“I was accepted into the Internship in April 2022, and during my internship we visited a lot of Museums and I was inspired by the work of Lou-Ann Neel, Nika Collison and Lucy Bell the Repatriation Handbook,” she says.
When Marlene weaves, she says she is thinking of the next generations, especially her granddaughter, who is with her from harvesting cedar bark in the forests, to weaving workshops. “I can see her learning, she’s watching and she’s listening. It’s important,” says Marlene, “I want her to carry on with the work that I do.”
The community benefit expanded beyond Marlene’s expectations, when she opened up the weaving workshop at the Museum of Anthropology to staff, Nuxalk college students and other urban Nuxalk people. “Everybody got to take a piece of the museum home with them, the memories and the creations… and the feelings of belonging, you know, because we always feel like we don’t belong.”
The Arts Strengthening Mentorship project helped the artists feel their ownership. “Yes, we do belong here. Those are ours, and they belong to us, and yes, we are going to do something about this.” The project enabled weavers to reconnect with older patterns and weaving techniques, but also started conversations about having their own museum in Bella Coola.
“Those are the kind of movements that we want to make right. So that we can stand up and just say, ‘Hey, know what? We’ve had enough of this. We want to take our stuff home so we can properly take care of our own items, in our own territories.’”
“It’s important to bring home the work that belongs here – so that when our children are walking through our museum, that they can have that feeling of pride,” says Marlene. “That sense of pride of where they come from, who they are.”
Marlene seeks to bring education and knowledge to the youth and “to continue the work that we do to protect our ancestral belongings,” she says.
“My hope for the next generation is to reawaken the spirits inside of themselves.”
FPCC’s Arts Program
FPCC’s Arts Program is now open for eligible First Nations, Métis and Inuit music creatives living in B.C. The following grants are currently available:
- Individual Artists Program – Up to $20,000
- Arts Strengthening Program – Up to $50,000
- Arts Infrastructure Program – Up to $75,000
- Music Program – Up to $30,000
Deadlines for submissions will close on September 15th, 2023. Click here to learn more about FPCC’s Music Grants and to watch the info Session.
Funding for the Music Program is supported by Creative BC and the Province of British Columbia.
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