A lesson in cedar weaving

The cedar tree has been a familiar figure for First Nations communities for a long time. The tree, believed to be a gift from Mother Nature, provides people with tools for their survival.

On June 3, Port Moody ecological society will hold a cedar weaving workshop with Tsawaysia Alice Guss at Port Moody Centre. Participants in the workshop will have a chance to learn the lessons of the cedar tree. Alice Guss, who has spent 20 years as a director of education in various First Nations communities, will hold the workshop to spread the heritage of First Nations communities.

Weaving cedar bark

Harvesting cedar bark. | Photo courtesy of Alice Guss

The workshop will focus mainly on the art of cedar weaving. The first step in this process is to harvest the tree. The process starts with stripping the bark from the tree and then curing it. Guss says that this step can take almost a year to complete.

“[…] Once it is, we are allowed to work with it,” says Guss. “Back from the day, our ancestors worked with cedar when it was wet or when it was dry.”

Activities like cedar weaving, which involves harvesting natural wood, are an integral part of the lives of Guss’s community and many other First Nations communities.

“We had no Walmart, we had to make everything with local resources and those were the fir trees, the maples. All of those trees were [like] our Home Depot,” says Guss. “That was our necessity that we utilized the natural resources. But the cultural significance is teaching us respect. Because without [the resources], we wouldn’t be able to make anything.”

Guss places important values and lessons in her teaching of cedar weaving.

“I [spend] two hours of class to teach about the cedar because the cedar is the tree of life. We utilise the cedar from the day we were born to the day that we die. Things like everyday uses. We made our tools, our canoes. We made our longhouses,” she says.

Since the hard work is built from previous ways, it is a good practice to thank the ancestors.

“We wouldn’t be able to get the slab of the cedar tree from the older tree. We would make wedges from the older tree,” adds Guss.

A way of life

Stripping cedar bark. | Photo courtesy of Alice Guss

The tradition of cedar harvesting contains meaningful life lessons that is taught within communities.

“[…] when we work with the cedar, we want to thank the water because without the water, we wouldn’t be able to make anything,” said Guss. “The medium [in] making things teaches us respect, teaches us to share and to care. And most of all, the best teaching is transformation because we transform mother nature’s gift into another gift.”

The First Nations educator reflects back on her past workshops.

“I think [it is] the gratification knowing that when they absorb the teaching and they reflect. And [at] the end, I just love [hearing the particpants’] heart-warming stories,” she says.

Guss also feels proud that the tradition of cedar weaving is making a comeback in various communities, despite having been repressed in the past. She says that even her 88-year-old aunt is learning to weave again.

“[The older generation] didn’t have those when they were younger because they were forced to go to residential schools,” says Guss. “Just yesterday I saw the Facebook posts of elders harvesting cedar for the first time. So a lot of teachings are coming back, which is awesome.”

For more details, visit www.portmoody.ca