Woven cedar bark, wool, feathers and blankets were part of the ceremonial dance costuming of T’Sou-ke Hereditary Chief Andrew Lazzar and his daughters Mary and Susan. The year was 1928 and the occasion a “spirit dance” celebration at the Esquimalt Big House.
Though today she would be unknown to many readers, the woman in the centre, Susan Lazzar was an incredibly interesting, generous-spirited and talented woman who made many contributions to our knowledge of our history.
Born in 1910 to Annie (Jones), wife of Chief Andrew and sister of Queesto of the Pacheedaht People, Susan grew up on Sooke Reserve No 1. When she was nine she was sent to Kuper Island Residential School, learning to read and write. Back at home, she learned traditional Salish skills, in preparing seafood and learning to weave cedarbark and sweetgrass baskets at her mother’s side. “My mother, she’d say ‘Watch me, I don’t have to tell you, just watch me.’ She wouldn’t talk about it – she’d just show us how it’s done.”
Married young, to George Cooper of Esquimalt, she was the mother of Jimmie Cooper, who grew up to serve several terms as the elected chief of the T’Sou-ke Band. Susan sometimes lived in Esquimalt, sometimes in her Sooke homeland, and also in Washington State where she raised several additional children. Throughout her life, she continued to practice the traditional Salish skills she took such pride in sharing.
She never failed to give thanks to the tree when she asked the cedar to give up some of its bark for her use and she addressed the sun each morning as she set about her day. During the 1980s, living permanently in Sooke, “Grandma Sue” became a fixture at the Sooke Region Museum every summer Sunday as she sat out on the lawn showing visitors the processes of weaving with cedar bark. We, along with the visitors, thought of her as a kindly, gentle treasure.
We were particularly excited the day that renowned US anthropologist and ethnologist Wayne Suttles arrived at the museum to study the tule reed mat she had made. Grandma Sue had chosen the finest tule reeds from either side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca for her woven masterpiece.
Local artist Kathy Johannesson partnered with her to write her memoirs, “That Was our Way of Life” a little booklet available at the museum. Among Susan’s sisters, besides Mary, who married Baptiste Paul, there was Nancy, who married Dick Pappenburger of Saltspring Island and her eldest sister, Ida Lazzar who became Mrs. Gustave Planes. Ida raised a large family in Sooke who all became well-known, particularly in the fishing community. It is one of her grandsons, Gordon, who serves as T’Sou-ke Chief Gordon Planes today.
Sooke Region Museum