A seventh-generation master Salish weaver is working on a project at Imagine High.
Frieda George has been teaching her craft since 2001 and this latest venture has her set up as an ‘artist in residence.’ Set up in the school’s front lobby three days a week, George is working on a weaving that will be displayed at Imagine High for years to come.
“This is about, how do we embed some Indigenous ways of knowing and learning into our day-to-day, and how do we bring authentic artists into our building?’” said Imagine High principal Brooke Haller. “I see kids who are interested in both the stories and the time they spend with Frieda, because how often do we get to spend time with an elder and hear those stories?
“Listening to those stories and hearing about that connection to the land and the people here has been really powerful.”
F.G. Leary Elementary and A.D. Rundle Middle are partners in the project. Classes from those schools have dropped by to see the weaving, which tells the story of the Fraser Valley.
The Fraser River runs through middle. There are mountains and when it’s finished a majestic eagle will perch at the top. George incorporates symbols used by Salish weavers, like crossed arrows to denote friendship and a lightning bolt to denote power against evil.
It has to be seen to be truly understood, but as George says, “Every design has a meaning.”
She has been working on the project since late September.
As she works, she talks to students who ask interesting questions. One wanted to know how weavers got their wool in the early 1900’s, when they couldn’t just walk into a store or order online.
The question gave George, who is from Squiala First Nation, the opportunity to tell a tale that was passed down to her by her grandmother when she was a little girl.
“My great grandma, she used to hike up Mt. Cheam by herself and she’d watch where the mountain goats would travel,” George said. “She’d get branches from trees and put them all along their trail, and a couple days later she’d go back in and pick all the mountain goat hair. She’d bring it home and wash it, tease it, card it and spin it all by hand. That’s how they did it back in the day.
“That’s a story I remember vividly.”
There are two elements to what George is doing at Imagine High. There’s the weaving, which she loves. She says her mind is totally calm when she’s immersed in a project.
“I used to have anxiety really bad, and when I weave I feel really comfortable and relaxed,” she said.
She loves teaching just as much. Imagine High students have taken an active hand in the weaving and she loves listening.
“Meeting all different types and hearing their stories, they not only sit and weave but they tell me how their day is going,” George said. “And I can tell when I teach people if they’re going to be natural at it. I’ve had about 2,000 students since 2001 and to this day I have a handful who’ve continued with it and do good work.
“The biggest things you need to be good at weaving is patience and the willingness to just sit there and enjoy what you do. Every student that’s come by since I’ve been here has told me, ‘This is so relaxing.’”
George’s daughter Roxanne has followed in her footsteps, becoming an eighth-generation weaver. She’ll often join her mom at the school and tell stories while she works. She’s also her mom’s manager, taking care of the business side of weaving. George also does cedar bark weaving and sewing, and thanks to Roxanne, she has enough orders to keep her busy through 2024.
“I’m very proud to do this, because I never ever thought I could do something like this,” she said. “I’m so proud of my daughter too because she’s continuing it alongside me, and I feel heart-warmed every day.”
Haller said the project is allowing Imagine High to do a deeper dive with Indigenous education and give it the respect it deserves.
“What we’re trying to do with Indigenous education is not make it a one-off, a token experience that we have before we move on with our day,” Haller said. “Not only do we have Frieda weaving with the kids, but we also have classes creating songs and art around it. Another class is looking at sustainability and how the Stó:lō stories tie in there.
“By visiting it regularly and seeing it from multiple perspectives, I think our kids care about it a lot.”