For Rodney Teed, an artist and councillor at Saik’uz First Nation, making birch bark baskets is important traditionally and in Indigenous history.
“First time I ever seen Birch Bark made was with my aunty. She used to make the baskets and I would watch her. As young men our responsibility was to follow the old ones and go get birch bark. Then we would collect the spruce roots,” Teed said in a conversation with The Express on July 23.
Birch bark basket making is the traditional way to store and pick berries, and Teed said he is continuing the tradition so he can pass it on to his grandchildren. He doesn’t sell the baskets, instead he is creating them to keep the art form alive.
“I do find myself in a trance set of mind while I am making birch bark baskets. I remember the good times and sometimes the bad times. And it is soothing.”
“Best thing is that with every stitch, I learn,” he said.
Teed explained that birch bark is collected on May 1st, when the sap runs up the tree and the birch is around the bark of the tree. Once the bark swells, it is easier to split the birch off.
For the artist, his grandmother and other women in his family were inspiration to understand the Indigenous way of life.
Teed said his grandmother took him fishing, camping, hunting, collecting roots, birch bark making, rock collection for putting weights on nets etc.
“So one time I asked her – granny, how come you are taking me to all these places? And she said, I know you are going to get a good job. But if all else fails, and the dollar drops from underneath you, all grocery stores are closed, at least you will have this as your back-up.”
“My grandmother was born in 1916 and she went through the economic depression, where everybody was poor. It didn’t matter what the colour of your skin was, everybody was poor back then. So she had her culture to sustain the village,” he said.
In the old days, Teed said, his aunts and grandmothers would make much bigger baskets to store all their dry goods in it. They would put the baskets under a spruce tree with big branches, so it would keep the area dry.
Celebrating traditional art like birch bark basket making will bring everyone closer together, Teed said. He recently took 15 young people and 5 adults from Saik’uz First Nation out to collect birch barks, so he could teach them how to make their own baskets for berry picking.
Making these baskets also helps Teed clear his mind.
This story is part of a weekly series from the Express to showcase local artists within the region. If you have any suggestions please reach out to the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.