Salish weavers showcased the traditional and contemporary ways of their culture revival at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Hosted by Vancouver Art Gallery, from now until May 12, Rooted Here: Woven from the Land is an exhibition that displays the weavings of four local Salish artists; and offers a glimpse into their participation in the design of the gallery’s new building. The exhibition looks into the history of Salish weaving, its connection to the land, colonialism’s impacts on this tradition, and the artists’ role in its revival.

Among these artists is Skwetsimeltxw Willard ‘Buddy’ Joseph, a weaver and a teacher from the Squamish Nation and an elder in residence at the Vancouver Art Gallery. His journey as a weaver started around 20 years ago when he and his wife – Chepximiya Siyam’ Chief Janice George – attended a weaver’s gathering in Washington state.

“We were walking around and my wife saw a wool-woven tunic. She asked the weaver, ‘How much?’ And the weaver was like, ‘Well, I could sell it to you or I could teach you for the same money. So at that moment, our lives took a 180-degree turn. We went to Washington State for about six months to learn weaving,” says Joseph.

From the past up until the present

George Family Chief Design, by Skwetsimeltxw Willard ‘Buddy’ Joseph and Chepximiya Siyam’ Chief Janice George. | Photo by Jiratchaya Piamkulvanich.

Joseph explains that Salish weaving was like a big industry in his community back in the day. People had to hike around 25 miles to hunt for mountain goats, and bring them back for their wool to be processed and woven. They then used these weavings in ceremonies throughout their life, beginning as early as a naming ceremony for young children.

“When you stand on a [woven] blanket in a [naming] ceremony, that blanket represents pure space. So from that day to the rest of your life, you are starting a new phase, what it means to carry a name,” says Joseph.

Furthermore, Joseph adds there is a strong connection between Salish weaving and the land. The title of the exhibition ‘Rooted Here: Woven from the Land’ is literal in its meaning.

“When we talk about our culture, what I’ve been taught is that everything we got comes from the land: culture, spirituality, language, weaving, and food. [This is] one of the reasons why our people never leave the land,” says Joseph.

Nevertheless, Salish weaving almost disappeared during the period of colonization and residential schools. This left the Squamish nation, for instance, with only one weaver 20 years ago when Joseph started to learn weaving. It therefore has become his goal to change that.

“Our goal is to create more weavers and more teachers,” says Joseph. “But we don’t necessarily just teach them the techniques. We also encourage them to talk to their own elders about the history of weaving.”

New building, new beginning

Skwetsimeltxw Willard ‘Buddy’ Joseph. | Photo by Jiratchaya Piamkulvanich.

Besides showcasing the weavings, the exhibition features prototypes of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s new building that is currently under construction on West Georgia street. The highlight of the building is its copper woven facade, which resembles the weft and waft found in Salish weaving. Copper was specifically selected because items made out of this material hold a powerful meaning for many First Nations of British Columbia.

The four artists have been working closely with architects from Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron. Together they discussed the story this building would tell: Joseph said that a big part of it centers around the resilience of First Nations and reconciliation. The construction of the building is expected to be completed in 2028.

“The architects said that the building is going to be around for probably 200 years. So anything we do as First Nations, we want to think of the seven generations that are coming, and what can we put down today that would be to their benefit,” says Joseph. “This building therefore represents a brighter future for our people coming out of a dark era of residential schools, disease, and racism.”

For more information on the exhibit, visit: