Back in the 1980s, we had the privilege of being able to watch Grandma Sue’s weaving skills on summer Sunday afternoons, as she sat on the lawn at the Sooke Region Museum.
In this photo she is weaving with cedar bark, and this particular mat can be seen displayed at the museum when it reopens to the public later this summer.
Grandma Sue’s traditional skills were demonstrated with bulrushes and with swamp grass, or sweetgrass, as well as with cedar.
As a little girl, she had grown up watching her own grandmother, Annie Jones, from the Pacheedaht, who had married Andrew Lazzar, chief of the T’Sou-kes, and it was at her grandmother Annie’s knee that the little girl Susan Lazzar became so knowledgeable.
A variety of woven items were made, from mats to baskets to bottle coverings to headbands and more. Grandma Sue grew up to feel reverence for nature in all its forms. When she wanted bark from a red cedar tree she would approach the tree and say, “Thank you, tree – I have come to cut some bark so I can make my baskets. I’ll only take what I need.”
She went on to explain to us: “We didn’t just take it from any tree. We used to get it from the east side of the tree where the sun comes up. And you only take a strip, so that the tree still lives – then it heals up. We used to bundle it up and pack it on our backs. That’s what the tumplines were for.”
Susan was one of the youngest of Chief Andrew Lazzar and his wife Annie’s 14 children, and a granddaughter of the old Chief Louis Lazzar and his wife Mary. It is no wonder she absorbed the culture as she grew up in the T’Sou-ke village at the estuary of the Sooke River; she used to say her mother did not describe what to do, but simply said, “Watch me.”
When she grew up she married George Cooper of the Songhees, and became mother of Jimmie Cooper, who grew up a community leader, elected several terms as chief.
Her life also included becoming mother to Gerry Lazzar, who is still a well-known member of the T’Sou-ke community. Several others of her descendants make their homes in the T’Sou-ke village today, treasuring the skills they learned from her.
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.