Nlaka’pamux Basket-Making has been recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada for its historic and cultural significance.
Last month, federal Environment Minister Peter Kent announced that Nlaka’pamux Basket-Making, Coast Salish knitters and their Cowichan sweaters and Chief Kw’eh (ca. 1755-1840) of Fort St. James were among 13 persons, events and cultural traditions to be designated for Aboriginal communities’ “fundamental contributions” to Canada’s history.
The designations celebrate places that bear witness to the spiritual, cultural, and physical ties nurtured by First Nations for millennia. They also recognize key leaders, cultural traditions that speak to innovation and creativity, and events that had a long-lasting impact on the future of Canada as Canadians have come to know it today.
Nlaka’pamux (pronounced En-la-kap-mah) baskets of coiled cedar root are of exacting, fine workmanship and were decorated using a unique technique known as imbrication which creates patterns of coloured squares in the weave of the basket.
The Nlaka’pamux, formerly known as the Thompson Indians, reside in the Ashcroft-Lytton-Fraser Canyon area of BC. Together with the St’at’imc (formerly the Lillooet), the Secwepemc (formerly the Shuswap), and the Okanagan-Colville, they represent the Interior Salish speaking peoples of Canada.
According to a government news release, basket-making is closely tied to the preservation of cultural identity and the women who make these baskets were and are considered master basket makers. “Nlaka’pamux basket-making is central to Nlaka’pamux cultural identity, embodying the role of women as culture bearers, as their ethno botanical and technical knowledge has been transferred through female lines for generations, as well as in the making of baskets using traditional motifs,”” the release states. “Basket-making is a tangible expression of Nlaka’pamux culture, and it articulates historical memory.”
Before European arrival in the southern interior, which began in the first decade of the 1800s, Nlaka’pamux baskets were an important commodity of the trade networks that linked Interior Salish peoples with one another as well as with the coast and the plains east of the Rockies. The production and active marketing of baskets by Nlaka’pamux women provided an economic foothold for families and their communities during a period of tremendous culture loss and change between 1850 and 1930.
Until the 1930s, Nlaka’pamux women produced vast quantities of baskets following techniques, forms, and decorative styles that predated European arrival. Collectors recognized that these coiled and imbricated baskets were unique among Aboriginal basketry in Canada.
Basket-making declined between the Great Depression and the end of World War II. By the 1950s, knowledge of basket-making among the Nlaka’pamux was on the verge of being lost altogether. An appreciation for Aboriginal crafted arts returned by this time however, and by the 1970s, newly crafted Nlaka’pamux baskets were recognized as art of the highest calibre.
Canada's program of historical commemoration recognizes nationally significant places, persons and events of Canadian history. Designations of national historic significance are made by the Minister of the Environment on the recommendation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, which was established in 1919.