Haida weaver keeps family legacy alive

Evelyn Vanderhoop is part of a family legacy on Haida Gwaii. But she wasn’t even sure she wanted to be a part of it because she says she didn’t want to compete with the rest of the women in her family when it came to the traditional art of weaving.
Evelyn Vanderhoop works on part of a Naaxiin robe. (Erica Daniels/CBC)

Her house faces Masset Inlet, large floor-to-ceiling windows illuminate the living room which is also her workspace.

Evelyn Vanderhoop is part of a family legacy on Haida Gwaii. Mention her name and people will nod and tell you about her mother, grandmother, sisters and aunties. They are all master weavers.

But Vanderhoop wasn't always a part of her family's legacy of weavers and she wasn't even sure she wanted to be, because she says she didn't want to compete with the rest of the women in her family.

Her mother, however, had begun weaving with textiles a few years earlier so Vanderhoop decided to learn that craft. The rest of her family was weaving materials like cedar and spruce into items like baskets and hats.

"Nobody in our family was weaving the textiles, so I thought I will pick that up and start doing the textiles."

Passing along the tradition

Weaving is a skill that all Haida women once knew. But as their world changed, this tradition that was passed from mother to daughter unravelled.

Her grandmother, Noni in the Haida language, kept the weaving tradition alive in their family.

"She was selling in trinket stores … and she was selling for pocket money."

Vanderhoop's grandmother became one of the first people to teach university classes and that's how her mother learned the Haida art of weaving. But her mother took things a step further. She went to different elders in different villages and asked 'Could you teach me your way of weaving?'

"My mother is one of the rare people who can go to a Tsimshian village and teach the Tsimshian how to weave … and then she can go to Tlingit country and teach the Tlingit to weave Tlingit.

"I was mentored and inspired by my mother," said Vanderhoop. She and her mother, now in her 80s, still travel around teaching women to weave. The Raven's Tail and Naaxiin, more commonly known as Chilkat, are the two techniques she teaches and weaves.

Traditionally, North West Coast textiles were made of mountain goat wool and yellow cedar bark, but nowadays they use mainly Merino wool.