Finding the spirit in art

T’Sou-ke Spirit Festival

T’Sou-ke Spirit Festival

Storytelling, art, singing, drumming and dancing are the traditional ways to celebrate the cultures of the First Nations people on Vancouver Island. While many of the skills of the elders have been lost in time, there is a resurgence of interest and a fascination in the ways that went before.

Two years ago T’Sou-ke First Nation band member Linda Bristol applied for a First People’s grant that would be used to restore traditional crafts of the Coast Salish people.

What began as weekly sessions of learning wool knitting, weaving, beadwork, basket and grass weaving has expanded to include drum making, wood carving, singing and dancing. The classes held at the reserve are extremely popular and have brought many community members together for sharing knowledge and socializing. Out of this came a collective, TAG, the T’Sou-ke Arts Group.

Well-known Sooke carver Victor Newman lends his talents giving youngsters and others the basics of carving techniques.

Clara Walaschuk became passionate about knitting at the classes and has incorporated native designs to her Cowichan-style of knitting. She grew up watching her grandma Ida Planes knit. She now makes the traditional Cowichan sweaters and vests, which are unique in that they are all made without seams. That, she says, is how you can tell an authentic Cowichan garment from an imitation.

With the success shown over the last two years, Bristol is expanding it even further. She applied for and received a grant from the BC Spirit Festival which will see the T’Sou-ke Spirit Festival take place on Saturday, February 26 at Edward Milne Community School.

“The proposal was to focus on Vancouver Island,” said Bristol. “The festival focuses on the three nations of Vancouver Island – the Coast Salish, Nuu-cha-nulth and the Kwakwaka’wahw.”

Vendors from all three nations have been invited to set up for the day to sell a wide array of First Nations art and crafts, a fashion show will feature the work of well-known designer Charlene George and others.

“I really want to give an opportunity to emerging artists, “ said Bristol. “You gotta pull some people out sometimes.”

Charlene George, kQwat’st’not, designs traditional and contemporary clothing with style and beauty. Inspired by her Coast Salish and Nuu-Chah-Nulth ancestry, Charlene works with textiles, weaving, appliqué, and embroidery. She has worked with art education programs in textile design at both the University of Victoria and Royal Roads University. She is scheduled to teach a one-day course on April 2 at Royal Roads in April, titled Symbolism and Story in Northwest Coast Art.

Along with all of this is a unique play,” Clamoise, Wild Woman of the Woods.”

Clamoise is a legendary person in all three First Nations cultures. The half-hour narrative play is a collaboration of all three nations tying together who Clamoise is on their territory.

“It’s a fun play on listening to your parents,” said Bristol. The Wild Woman of the Woods is said to catch naughty children but Bristol said she is not nasty but rather slow and it is easy to avoid her.

“Our wild woman is what others refer to as Sasquatch, Big Foot or Yeti, they are all speaking of the same character,” Bristol stated.

“She has certain powers to give to people in a certain way and will touch on that in the play.”

The play, in some ways, is similar to the children’s tale of Hansel and Gretel.

Telling stories and learning by watching is the way many cultures learned.

“The play is about storytelling,” said Bristol. “If I could only go back and turn my mental recorder on, my father loved telling stories and legends. There are lessons in those legends. That’s what we are trying to do.”

A reception will follow the play and people can meet and greet with the players and artists. There is a nominal cost for the play, but the other events taking place at the T’Sou-Ke Spirit Festival are free.

“It’s wonderful how the community has come together to support us,” said Bristol.

Funding comes from the Ministry of Community, Sports and Cultural Development, the Assembly of BC Arts Councils, the District of Sooke, Community Policing and anonymous donors.

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