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Birch Bark Basket Making with Noleen McQuary

Birch Bark Basket Making with Noleen McQuary

Nov 21, 2016
Category: General 

One day she looked up the tree before she tried to pull its bark, and just as her mother said - the tree would not give it up.

Noleen was taught to always look straight on at a tree when she is going to harvest bark or it won’t work out. The tree needs to give its bark up willfully. After trying once to go against what she was taught, Noleen now follows this practice at all times.

Noleen McQuary, daughter of Bernadette George (Bernie McQuary) from Nadleh Whut’en, has been making birch bark baskets for 42 years. She made her first basket with her grandmother Agnes George when she was just 8 years old. As Noleen was developing her skill, her mom Bernie critiqued her work. Although it hurt Noleen’s feelings at times, she is thankful now because that’s how she learned!

Noleen harvests bark to make her baskets in the spring and the fall. Spruce roots, which are used for the stitching, are gathered in the summer… after a rain. Alder bark for the fancy work, is also harvested, along with red willows which form the basket rims. 

Bark for her baskets is harvested as she was taught; ethically. She is careful to not take too much from a grove of trees. She was also taught not to girdle the tree, and to avoid inner bark as the tree can die if you cut too deep. Noleen walks into the forest to harvest, and never takes bark from beside the road.

Her grandmother and mother also taught her to always give back when you take anything from the forest (by leaving tobacco, food, etc.). Noleen always thanks the tree and promises that she won’t waste what she has taken. 

"When spruce roots are harvested, your tla’ah (pronounced ‘glah’ = bum) should never be on the ground". Noleen says she was taught to crouch when starting to pull a root, and then stand up to follow a good root.

“It takes time and practice to learn how” says Noleen, but she is always happy to teach her craft with others who are willing to learn. Noleen has taught her craft to her daughter and has also taught in Stellaquo, Nadleh, Burns Lake and Ksan. Noleen can be reached at noeleenmcquary@gmail.com

© Carrier Sekani Family Services 2016. Written by Marlaena Mann. All rights reserved.


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Last modified: Monday 06-Jul-20 16:02:04 PDT