“The studio, I love it here, it is my happy place. I don’t have that searching anymore that I had for a long time. I am at home and I am at peace. If anybody wants to come to sit, talk and weave I am happy to do that. Everybody is welcome.” – Jessica
Jessica, born in Egmont, is Coast Salish and Portuguese descent and she is a passionate weaver for 30 years. Growing up she spent many hours in the forest and in the abundance of nature, looking for treasures, fishing, gardening, and clam digging.
Her love for weaving, coupled with a background in museum curating inspired her concept for an art, craft and lifestyle studio, Red Cedar Woman Weaving Studio, opened in the heart of Sechelt in 2016.
The studio moved into a bigger space on 5511 Wharf Street in May 2021. It is a bright and airy space showcasing the Sechelt Nation and other First Nations’ weaving and unique crafts. The studio now has a new cultural project that focuses on the gender equality for women, for the First Nations youth as well as settler youth, providing a safe gathering place to come and weave and opportunity to talk and share through cultural experiences.
She also offers basket weaving workshops to various learning institutions throughout the Lower Mainland and she works with the Sechelt school district to prepare for educational baskets as well as hand-made “Shishalh Activity Book”. It is a culture learning book by word search, fill in the blanks, match the animal and coloring pages. The book serves as a great teaching tool for First Nations education curriculum for children and it is widely received by Sechelt schools, Museum of Anthropology at UBC and Lattimer Gallery at the Vancouver International Airport.
Also unique to the studio is “Seed to Sip”, coffee from Kuna Caffee. For the past 9 years, Kuna Caffee has grown coffee from his own farm in Columbia. The founder, Kuna Sekaren, introduced the concept of single varietal coffee drinking where his farm does everything from seedling, planting, harvesting to processing in order to generate various kinds of coffee savored right up to your cup- thus the motto “Seed to Sip”. Kuna, a coffee drinker since the age of 5, is originally from Malaysia and has lived on the Sunshine Coast since 2004 where he met Jessica’s husband. Robert, Jessica’s husband, is a former Sechelt Nation band councilor and is presently the Elder in Residence of Capilano University. The two men’s friendship bonded over the Coast band’s soccer team called the Chiefs. Over the past few years, Kuna has also invited and involved other band’s members to partner with him towards his business objectives. This involves producing other sustainable food products from Columbia to bring to the Sunshine Coast’s residents. This step is considered a huge leap for the First Nations to explore other beneficial ventures and allow further opportunities from overseas. His distinctive one of a kind coffee is sold exclusively at Red Cedar Woman Weaving Studio.
Meeting Jessica, Robert and Kuna was as magical as the studio presented itself. They build each other up as one big family, harbouring the continuity of the culture, preserving the heritage and passing it on to all walks of life.
It was an honor to have conversations with them. VOICE is especially grateful to Jessica and Robert for opening up and sharing their genuine voices and what it is truly like to live on their ancestral land as Sechelt Nation.
VOICE(V): “Jessica, how did your love of weaving grow?”
Jessica(J): “My grandmother and my aunts were Sechelt Nation weavers. When growing up, I looked at those woven cedar root baskets in various shapes and sizes and I would ask my grandmother millions of questions about weaving. Oftentimes she would not answer my questions because her mother was a residential school survivor and she was taught not to talk of their own culture. She passed away when I was 21. I was determined to learn more about weaving while I was working for the Squamish Nation Elders and on this particular day, a woman from Tlingit people near Alaska, she came and tried to let the Elders weave a tiny cedar mat but they didn’t want to weave. Just like my grandmother, it would bring them back the residential school memory. So a lot of my traditional weaving techniques are self-taught. I observed the baskets from my cultural ancestors in the showcases in museums and galleries at every opportunity.
Now that I teach and hold workshops in my working studio, it has been amazing to see culture pouring out of people as they learn how to weave. It is amazing to see the tradition changing from something that was not to talk about to something that everybody rejoices doing.”
V: “What else do you do in your studio?”
J: “We weave Salish blankets too. We use naturally dyed wool from traditional food plants or traditional medicinal plants. Yellow is from the root of Oregon grapes, pink is blackberries, grey is blueberries, green is moss, and orange is from old man’s beard moss! It is amazing to see different plants turn into different shades of beautiful colors.
Just like cedar, we sustainably harvest traditional plants for medicines and bath & body products that we make here. With Devil’s Club we make tea, salve, mist, and bracelets. Wild Rose that grows along the beach we use it for mist. We use the steam distillation process to extract the rose oil from the hydrosol. We then mix the hydrosol with the rose essential oil to create our fragrant Rose Mist. We make Labrador tea(aka Swamp tea), it is full of vitamin C and good for colds. Yarrow tea is especially good for women and it balances hormones. Everything you see on the shelves (except the sage is from the Kamloops area) is from the land around us.”
Robert(R): “This wonderful woman here has the eyes of an eagle and hawk! When we go for our nature walk, her love for the culture is second to none. She is always finding something from the ground. She is like in Disneyland, up and down the cliff.”
V: “Jessica, what was your upbringing like?”
J: “Everything that I know about being a mother, a wife, a friend, that was from my grandmother. Medicine plants that she taught us, I didn’t know at the time that it would be something I would use later on in my life. As I got older, everything she taught me, I hear clearly and distinctly now. I was lucky to grow up in my culture when many of our people weren’t allowed to practice our culture. I had a good little life.”
On the contrary, it was not the same story for Robert. Both of his parents experienced residential schools and Robert himself was a day scholar.
V: “Robert, what was your upbringing like and can you share your residential school experience?”
R: “My mom, dad and my grandparents, they all went to residential schools. My generation, we were called day scholars because we would go to the school and we were allowed to go home. The school accepted other 48 Nations at the time and it was so full that they didn’t have any room for local kids like us.
When they talk about residential schools, they often forget about day scholars altogether. Just because we went home doesn’t mean that there wasn’t abuse during the day we were there. We were being whacked our hands and back of our heads by pointing sticks by teachers, priests and nuns.
Stories told about the residential school from another reserve or another band, sometimes it wasn’t all about the abuse though. It was more about survival. We cried for hours of laughter about them raiding the school kitchen and witnessing all those funny incidents behind the closed door of the Catholic school. They chose to be resilient and look at their experiences differently.
My father was one of the first to go to the residential school and he was in the Kamloops school. He ran away, jumped on the train and twice he came home. He taught me to be tough and my grandfather Clarence got me my first job working in a police station. He wanted me to become a policeman. It was tough upbringing in my family compared to nowadays.”
V: “ How did you both spend the first Truth and Reconciliation Day this September?”
J: “Nothing. We chose to stay by ourselves and just reflected on our thoughts. Honestly, the government needs to tell the whole truth before we can move to the reconciliation because they are still not telling the truth.
There are some people, grassroots people, who want to help. After the news of children found in Kamloops, although it was nothing new to us, women came together to knit little orange sweaters for those children. It amazed me how it affected people who didn’t know. There was such a huge outpouring of compassion and the desire to connect from the women who started knitting, talking, and supporting through social media.”
R: “On Canada Day, I was amazed to see the whole streets in Sechelt full of non-natives, marching for us. There must’ve been around 2,000 people, young and old. There is a lot of support here too.”
V: “What’s your take on the Land Acknowledgment?”
J: “We feel that most people say it because they have to and it is more for how the business or event looks to people, it’s something they have to do. We do acknowledge that some people mean what they say and for that we are thankful, but they are few and far between.”
V: “ Lastly, what does weaving mean to you?”
J: “Weaving makes me whole. When I was weaving once on my blanket, I felt I could hear old people talking. It sounded like Sechelt language and I knew then that I was doing exactly what all those women had done before me and I was connected. It felt like they were telling me that I was on the right track. Weaving makes me happy and it fills me up.”