Salish weaving class sparks conversation and learning at Langara

Instructor Debra Sparrow and her sisters revived the lost art of Coast Salish weaving

Carolee Duttchen shows off Salish weaving she created during Debra Sparrow's course, last semester. She will be gifting it to her daughter-in-law.
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By Safoura Rigi-Ladiz

Langara’s Salish weaving course gives students an opportunity to learn a once-lost tradition of B.C.’s Coast Salish people. 

The history of the traditional weaving practice and its cultural applications are an important part of what students learn. Students are taught to prep the wool, which includes spinning and dyeing the wool using natural dyes, before using it for weaving.

Stephanie Aitken, chair of Langara’s fine arts department, said instructor Debra Sparrow teaches students everything about the process.

“There’s a huge component with Debra’s class about conversation,” Aitken said. “It’s a history class disguised as a weaving lesson in many aspects.”

Aitken took the course last year.

Sparrow, a Coast Salish artist, specializes in weaving. Together with her sisters, they revived this lost art of weaving, according to Aitken. Her art is currently being displayed at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

“It was really great to hear Debra’s experiences with her life and her life choices to revive this lost art,” said Leah Hille, a fine arts student who completed the course last semester.

Carolee Duttchen, another student who has taken the course, has learned other aspects of traditional Indigenous culture by completing the weaving course.

“One of the most wonderful things that I’ve learned about Aboriginal people is their generosity,” Duttchen said. “They don’t measure their wealth by what they have, they measure their wealth by what they give away, and I think we could learn a lot from that.”

As a result, Duttchen said she wouldn’t sell her art, she would give it away.

This is the third time Langara has offered Salish Weaving. Classes are limited to 10 people, with five slots held for Indigenous students.

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