This month I interviewed Tiwuxiwulh (@Tiwuxiwulh on twitter) to learn more about the fascinating world of cedar weaving and I was not disappointed. I found an artist who is committed to their community and to honoring this important traditional art form. Rooted in his ancestors teachings, his activism, his love and respect for cedar, and his own talent as an artist, Tiwuxiwulh’s work is both functional and beautiful as well as acts of resistance you can wear; it truly is art work anyone would be honored to receive as a gift. Continue reading to learn more about the art and the artist here-
M: In your bio you mention learning simple harvesting and weaving techniques at five, picking up hat weaving at 13 and branching out to weaving full time more recently, what do you think the next stage of your work as an artist will look like?
T: There are a few projects and skills I’ve been chipping away at.
I’ve applied for grant money to travel to a few different museums so that I can study the regalia (capes, hats, headbands, skirts, etc.) of my Snuneymuxw’ and Quw’utsun Ancestors and recreate them. I’m really crossing my fingers for that to work out. If it does, I would create an exhibit of sorts, incorporating Hul’qu’mi’num’, my language, as well as a visualization of the techniques I incorporate into the regalia.
I’m a bit shy about my drawings/paintings, but there are days I feel like I’m a good visual artist. My partner’s hinted that for my birthday (December 31) that she’d like to help me get some prints done of my work, so keep an eye out for that I suppose.
There are two book/ series ideas rattling around in my head. One is a series of children’s books about a child learning to connect with the land and their culture through weaving. I have most of the first book finished, but I’m struggling with what age it should be aimed at, and how to edit it based on that. The other book would be regarding how colonialism and Cedar weaving, specifically, interact. There is a lot of colonial violence involved with my line of work, which I don’t think is well understood. It would help ease my mind to at least have it down in writing. It would be autobiographical in a sense, I suppose.
Once I have the time (probably in January), I’m going to take some beginner jewelry making/ metalsmithing courses, and have a friend teach me to sew. I have a lot of ideas on how to incorporate Cedar into silver and copper jewelry, and I’d like to try my hand at making my own clothing. I think my skills and interests align pretty well with fashion design.
Natural dyes. I want to learn as much as possible about them, and only use natural dyes in my work (aside from the occasional custom order, I suppose).
Finally, I have some Cedar root I’ve been wanting to use. Root weaving is different from bark weaving, though I do understand how to do it in theory. Root weaving allows for more freedom in creating images via pattern which I think I would really enjoy.
Ultimately, Cedar weaving and learning my language are my personal form of resistance to colonialism. Jewelry making, drawing, writing, and fashion design are vessels for me to incorporate what I know into new mediums. I am a pretty quick learner, so I do think I’ll get around to all of them eventually.
M: You also touched on the community building involved in your work, do you find the same level of satisfaction and accomplishment when teaching others to create with cedar as you find when you create with cedar yourself?
T: They are incredibly different types of satisfaction, but I do find the same level of accomplishment. When teaching fellow Indigenous people, I relish in the laughter, reconnecting, and the knowledge exchange. Cedar is healing. To get people from “I’m not crafty, I don’t think I could ever do that” to a beautiful finished product is always fulfilling. I would say that I love teaching, in those instances. I want to get myself to the point that I’m able to offer workshops for community for nothing or next to it. I have a long way to go for that, and I may never reach it, but that is my ideal. Teaching settlers is a bit harder. I preface my workshops for settlers with some of my own experiences with colonial violence I’ve experienced due to harvesting and weaving. My aim is to create an understanding that colonialism is ongoing through my own experience of simply practicing my culture. It’s hard to give that much of yourself, but I wouldn’t feel right teaching to settlers without that understanding. I haven’t had too much resistance on that end, yet. Settler participants seemingly walk away with a slightly fuller understanding of the modernity of settler-colonialism and an appreciation for the art. I think that’s important, but it’s not something I want to do all the time. I think once my book’s written, it’ll serve that purpose for me. Maybe I’ll make it required reading before I’ll conduct a workshop for settlers. Only joking… sort of (not really).
M: Obviously when you sell your work you get compensation for your labor and artistry but do you get any extra reward more from the process of making such lovely pieces?
T: I think the most rewarding part is when I know what I’ve created is going to someone who truly understands the importance of Cedar and the dedication that brought the creation from the tree to their hands. I do think my creations are aesthetically pleasing, but their true beauty comes from all of the Teachings and the embedded connection to land inherent to Cedar weaving. If that’s not understood, then a sale can be a bit bittersweet. If it is? Not much makes me happier.
M: What do you like or dislike most about harvesting cedar and weaving?
T: Cedar has been one of my greatest teachers. There is a patience and intricacy to harvesting that informs each and every flip and fold while weaving. I savor the pace and peace of weaving and harvesting, and the state of being I derive from creating. It is incredibly tiring, but extremely rewarding.
All of what I dislike about harvesting and weaving is external. There is a lot of fetishization and misunderstanding of Indigenous art, and Cedar weaving is no exception. I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to selling my pieces to the general public. I actually decided to make my website after a few particularly egregious disrespectful experiences in hopes I could be more particular with which markets I participate in.
There are also a lot of barriers surrounding harvesting. Many prime harvesting areas are being, or have been, deforested. Areas that still exist are close to prying eyes, or behind gates. In order to harvest, I am often limited in time due to gates closing, interrogated by people working the gates, and watched closely. I’ve even been told to stop on my Nations traditional territories. It’s getting harder and harder to harvest. Between the restrictions and climate changes effect on Cedar trees, I do fear for the longevity of the art.
M: Do you have any other creative pursuits or passions like painting, writing, cooking, sewing, leather work, etc?
T: I play guitar and ukulele. I’ve played guitar for a long time but have never worked on actively improving. It’s just nice to pick up and doodle occasionally.
M: What’s the best weaving and/or harvesting advice you’ve received or is their any advice or warnings you wish you had gotten when you were first starting out?
T: Don’t over-harvest; learn to harvest from an experienced weaver. Unless you have permission, only harvest from your own Nation’s area; Cedar weaving is, in my experience, all about connection to the land and your Ancestors. Your first of anything isn’t going to be the greatest; your next one will be better. Find the parts that you like, or the best parts, and analyze what you did to make it that way. Every aspect of harvesting, processing, and weaving itself requires patience, self-analysis and determination. Recognize that weaving is mentally, physically, and spiritually draining and don’t overexert yourself. Like anything else, you’ll always be learning. If you know where to find pictures or examples of weaving from your own Ancestors, study those. It will be so much more personal, and you won’t risk appropriating from other Nations’ teachings or techniques. There, of course, has been cultural exchange between Nations, and lines have been blurred due to colonialism. I am not saying do not explore. I just believe that the parts that are undeniably our Ancestors are especially beautiful.
M: What advice would you give to artists who are thinking about learning to harvest, process and weave with cedar?
T: If you belong to a people who traditionally wove with Cedar, do it. Hold it, feel it, fold it. It will feel right. Look for pictures of regalia from your Nation. Learn to make something small. Keep it and cherish it. If you enjoyed that, make something a little bigger. If you enjoyed that, find a workshop. If you want to harvest your own, be sure to find someone who knows what they’re doing to teach you. It’s easy to take too much. Processing is its own learning experience. Everyone has their preference. Find your own. Not everyone is a weaver, but if you belong to it, you belong to it. I think there should at least be an attempt to understand it.
If you do not belong to a Nation who wove with Cedar traditionally, I think it’s fair to seek out a workshop. Heed the words of the facilitator/ teacher. I personally don’t recommend seeking out or harvesting Cedar materials on your own. I think trading or some kind of knowledge exchange are fair game though, if it presents itself to you. Opinions on the topic vary pretty wildly. Personally, I’m pretty wary of settlers profiting off of Cedar weaving.
M: Do you ever teach the general public, sell at live markets or enter juried art shows; in other words where can people view your work in person?
T: For the most part, I will conduct workshops as opportunities present themselves. I will always jump at the opportunity to do a workshop for another Coastal community.
I hadn’t thought about entering a juried show before, but I’m thinking about it now. Keep an eye out for that in the future.
My dream, which is seemingly achievable within the next few years, is to own a small gallery on Quw’utsun land, showcasing my work, and the works of other upcoming Indigenous artists.
For where to find me otherwise, see below.
M: I noticed that like a lot of Indigenous people you trade your work work other artists, what’s the most interesting or unusual trade you have made so far?
T: I traded the hat off of my head for a turquoise ring and two turquoise pendants. I can’t think of anything too unusual I’ve received in a trade… Maybe someone reading this can change that.
M: What is something that a lot of people don’t know about you?
T: Until February, I had tonsils the size of golf balls. Those tonsils ultimately led to me becoming a full-time Cedar weaver.
Tiwuxiwulh’s prices (as always like materials prices of finished pieces vary and are subject to change):
$8-$20 Rose pins
Where to find Tiwuxiwulh:
December 5 Victoria Public Market (Victoria, BC)
December 6, 7, 8 Nomad Holiday Market @ the Roundhouse (Esquimalt, BC)
December 13 Indigenous Artist Christmas Market @ Human & Social Development building @ UVIC (Victoria, BC)
December 14 Doug LaFortune and Friends Christmas Art show @ Tsawout gym (Saanichton, BC)
December 15 Quw’utsun Christmas market @ Si’em le’lum gym (Duncan, BC)
December 19 Victoria Public Market (Victoria, BC)
December 20, 21 Indigenous Winter Market @ 1919 Fernwood rd (Victoria, BC)
August 2020 Santa Fe Free Indian Market (occurs the same weekend as the Santa Fe Indian Market) @ Scottish Rite temple (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
And as a semi-regular at Esquimalt Farmer’s Market during the Summer, and an artist along the inner harbour in downtown Victoria.
This month’s term is Cedar- (Red Cedar/Thuja Plicata) held as sacred by many Native Nations cedar is used by traditional weavers who utilize both the bark and root in weaving baskets, hats, clothing and other adornments as well as mats, screens, blankets, rugs and other items.