Nlaka’pamux1 Roots: Known Makers & Their Baskets
Sadly, the vast majority of First Nations artifacts held in museum collections around the world today have no information on, nor even the name of, the original makers of these wonderful objects. This lack of important history makes the object much less valuable as a link to the living past of the piece. Connection with identifiable people adds multiple layers of meaning to the object that can be read in the context of historic period, place, and personal identity.
It is very significant, therefore, that the Langley Centennial Museum & National Exhibition Centre (LCM) and the Yale & District Historical Society (YDHS) hold two parts of a wonderful group of well-documented Nlaka’pamux (formerly known as Thompson) First Nations baskets collected in the southern interior of British Columbia in the North Bend area between 1911 and 1922 by Kathleen Edith (Pearson) Southwell (1887-1975). This wonderful collection was donated to LCM and YDHS by the collector’s daughter Aida (Southwell) Freeman (1907-2007).
We are very fortunate that basket collector Kathleen had become friends with the basket makers or perhaps their daughters while she was at school. As a result of these social connections, Kathleen honoured the makers of some of the baskets she accumulated by recording their names. This respect for maintaining the connection between the baskets and their makers by Kathleen has made it possible for the Yale & District Historical Society and the Langley Centennial Museum to follow up on this crucial, yet extremely rare, information.
With funding support from the British Columbia Museums Association and the Department of Canadian Heritage, Museums Assistance Program, the respective museums have been able to commission research to uncover a wealth of information on the makers, their families, and the backgrounds of the basket donors.
The fifty-three baskets in the two museums' Kathleen (Pearson) Southwell collections have undergone extensive research by Irene Bjerky (C’eyxkn), a direct descendant of a Spuzzum Nlaka’pamux basket maker. Irene has maintained close connections to and worked intimately with modern basket makers and basket scholars. The copious amount of detail in the biographies of the basket makers and their basket descriptions that have been collected by Irene is a testament to her dedicated research over many years. All those associated with the Partners' ongoing basket project raise our hands in respect and thanks to Irene for her determined pursuit of the stories of these basket makers. The biographies and the resulting connections to the baskets pay due respect and honour to the traditional knowledge, skills, and adaptability of the makers of these wonderful baskets.
Happily, we have begun to expand the value of this information to encompass other baskets in the collection of the Lytton First Nation and we have received important additional information in return. The Partners in a major multi-phase project on our baskets are the Kwantlen First Nation, Lytton First Nation, Langley Centennial Museum, and Yale & District Historical Society. We hope that the significance of the biographical information on the known makers can be extended even further to additional baskets in other museum and private hands so that the respect and honour afforded to the known makers of these baskets can be spread far and wide.
This extremely rare level of personal information on the makers of these information-rich First Nations artifacts will allow web site visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the social roots of these baskets, their meanings as documents of Nlaka’pamux cultural tradition and change, as well as the histories of the families that flourished around the makers of these fine Nlaka’pamux artifacts. The Partners would be most pleased to receive additional information on the makers and/or references to other examples of their basket work.
The Langley Centennial Museum and its Partners gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Province of British Columbia and the British Columbia Museums Association through the BC 150: Celebrating Influential Women, Seniors and Elders program.
The professional photography of the baskets has been made possible in part through an Aboriginal Heritage grant from the Museums Assistance Program, Department of Canadian Heritage.
1 This is the spelling preferred by basket project Partner the Lytton First Nation that is a member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council and we use it in this section of the web site devoted to known makers.