“It is a much greater thing to give than it is to receive. You’ll understand what I mean one day.” -Beau Dick
It might have been four years ago now since Beau told this to me on his front porch. The art of giving is one that is learned by watching our elders, and from seeking to understand the greatest elder we have and all share. The earth’s ancient and life giving ways show us how to be. The land is a language human beings once spoke and understood. I wanted to learn to give in the way that the earth does to us all every day, in every way imaginable. From the food we eat, air we breathe, water that provides for us in all it’s forms, and the forests, the earth truly sustains us in ways we forget. When the land is paved over, food comes from a store, and knowledge comes from a university, it is easy to forget there even is an earth and it takes care of us or offers teachings. Despite our perceptions, it is an interconnected being, synthesizing the beauty of itself into many forms, including our bodies. What is the origin of these forms? Where does one organism begin and another end? Where did they come from? They found form from nothingness at some point, and it’s successes find new forms through our imagination and hands, as our creations and inventions.
I used to enjoy lying in the fields somewhere. In the grass on a sunny day, I would look into the sky and clouds in a half dream state, as wind energy seemed to move through me like my skin wasn’t there. It felt like a breath from the sky, cleansing my spirit with the confluence of atmospheric pressure creating the wind. I enjoyed watching an invisible force become visible as the wind captured the tree’s limbs and sent each leaf rustling, creating sound and motion. Both seemed to serve each other as reflections, with the wind giving physical motion and life to the tree, and the tree giving visible motion and life to the wind.
Like this our art moves through us, from a non material concept growing into form from our energy into objects capable of housing a spirit just as our bodies do. As this tree in the wind we have our indiviual spirits and are moved in our own ways by the creative life force, and together are experiencing our collective spirit through the societies and cultures we create and the resultant reality we in turn live in and share together. In this, I believe that reality is sculpted and refined by the actions and minds of each of us, and our lives serve as investments in this collective creation. The weaving is a contribution to this greater spirit, born out of the earth and our hands, a language offering symbols and patterns that come from the natural and supernatural relms. They came as gifts from observing and living intimately with the land, and were products from the minds of people whose times have passed yet whose art continues to communicate a way of seeing the world through their work. This is why I travel the globe to museums: to visit that world, to feel that energy, to remember that spirit. This is why I go into the forest and sea: to visit that world, to feel that energy, to remember that spirit.
I finished weaving my first Yeil Kuwoo chiefs robe over two years ago, and for the longest time it felt lost to me. A traditional piece created under the guidance of William White, I struggled with understanding where it belonged in a modern world. It was a powerful enough process that it moved everything out of my life during the 13 months it took to complete it. What I had once thought was important submitted itself to the power of the robe, my time and energy being neccessary to help it take its place in the natural cycle of things. In essence it needed my life to create itself, nothing more. In the same way the life energy gives form to a tree through growth I believe our same creative process reflects this. It needed my time and energy to become visible out of the nothingness it existed in. Somewhere in non material form Yeil Kuwoo has a resonance pattern, a life force, a seed that knows what it wants to become.
The opportunity to sell our art is enticing and sometimes neccessary in today’s world. Even though my teacher William White told me I had to give it away, I didn’t really understand. I suppose there were things he tried to teach me that I just didn’t understand back then and needed to come to terms with myself, so I wondered as I held the piece where it belonged. I felt the burden of responsibility it was to own such an object and take care of it. I knew that it needed a home and that home was not with me. My first teacher, Kerri Dick, taught me early on that the weaving was meant to go away from us. I think that was one of my most precious realizations she gifted me with because I was very attached to the work when I first began. But she told me if I didn’t let it go, I wouldn’t create any more. I again needed to submit my own sense of value and worth to the power of this robe, and honor its wish to be a part of the culture.
The robe had been danced by our Kwakwaka’wakw families matriarch Minnie Johnston at our feast in 2010 to show our connection to Haida Gwaii, where the right to weave came from in our family. This was our first cultural event in nearly 100 years. To put a robe on our families chief would require that we potlatch, an act that is likely multiple years away. With the piece too large for my grandmother, I knew its place was not with her or our family’s chief who has yet to be put in his seat. When I heard that our relatives on Haida Gwaii were potlatching, I made the commitment to gift the robe to Allan Davidson Jr., whose father has potlatched for a chieftainship for our family in Kiusta. For their family it was a momentous occasion to put a chief in place for their Stlaang Laanas Raven clan for the first time in 110 years. It was also a milestone for our family and I. It filled me with pride to stand with the matriarchs and watch them dress the new chief. It felt like true completion to see a chiefs robe go onto the back of a chief, where these robes truly belong.
To put a robe on a chief is to give him that body of energy. I hope that he feels the strength acquired while weaving the piece, and that it gives him the right energy to move into his new role. I hope the robe protects and guides him on his journey towards a brighter future for us all. I know that he feels the weight of responsibility that comes with being a chief and rises to meet those duties that are necessary to help his family and our people move forward in good ways: being good to each other, lifting each other up and remembering that our ancestors gave from hearts of abundance because the earth was so good to bestow us with such gifts. While the modern world trys it’s best to deceive us into the illusion of scarcity and to identify with material possession, I hope we can remember that our wealth comes from the earth. Humans are the only beings on it that attach a dollar value to time and energy. To give is to understand where true wealth comes from, and that the object is merely a representation of spirit.
That being said, I was in return gifted some precious objects. Inside of a bentwood box Allan and his family presented a deer rattle, cedar roses, and a Dorthy Grant scarf. Leona Clow gifted her button robe and a Haida name, which was danced. The name came from the memory of Tsinni Steven Brown who was married to my great nonnie’s sister Cecilia, and who remembered the name Ruby Simeon received as a girl before leaving the islands. Her name was Jaad Kuujus. The materials and design of the button blanket were provided by Robert and Terri-Lynn Williams Davidson, and sewn together by Cecil.
We ended this trip spending the days on North Beach, with baked goods from the magical bakery in the woods called Moon Over Naikoon. We had a dinner of fish and potatoes, with only salt and olive oil fish on the beach tastes like no other.