We Kwakwaka’wakw continue to celebrate the fact that through
all that pushed against us, trying to change who we were put here to be, we continue to follow the path which our ancestors laid down for us. My cedar bark and Chilkat weavings are a continuation of the style which my ancestors created. Much of my cedar weavings are used in ceremony, and made following the traditions of our people.
My inspiration comes from visiting our cedar bark and chilkat regalia in museum collections. I consider these pieces not only works of art but medicine. When we put on our regalia we gain strength. I love creating regalia for family and friends and then see it worn during our ceremonies. There was a time in the late 70’s and early 80’s when there were very few Kwakwaka’wakw working with cedar bark. Today I am proud to say that every community now has weavers. I feel a sense of pride that my daughters are now learning the art of working with cedar and wool, creating regalia and using the materials as our old people did.
‘Nalaga Donna Cranmer (the dawning of a new day) is a master weaver of international renown. She is ‘Namgis from Alert Bay, BC, of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. Her great, great, great grandmother Mary Ebbetts-Hunt was a Tlingit woman from Tongass Island, Alaska, and was a Chilkat weaver. Donna’s direct family lineage gives her the right to weave Chilkat and to dance these beautiful pieces in potlaches today. Donna describes her background and commitment to cultural knowledge in her own words in “Knowing Home: Braiding Indigenous Science with Western Science”, edited by Gloria Snively and Wanosts’a7 Lorna Williams (2016):
“I am ‘Nalaga Donna Cranmer, the dawning of a new day. I live in ‘Yalis (Alert Bay), British Columbia (BC). I am a ‘Namgis woman from the River Gwani (Nimpkish River), the daughter of Gwi’mo’las Elder Vera Newman and O’waxalag a‘ lis Chief Roy Cranmer. I am the second of five children and have been fortunate to grow up in a very culturally and politically active family. I have heard our Kwak’wala language all my life, but I am not a fluent speaker…”
“To this day my family continues to potlatch. My grandparents on both sides of my family continued to potlatch even when a large majority of Kwakwaka‘wakw gave up this important practice for a number of reasons, not the least of which was a Canadian federal statute. The majority of potlatches I saw when I was younger were memorials for family members who had passed on. My maternal grandfather T’łakwagila Chief Arthur Dick, hosted four potlatches during his lifetime. The last three of his potlatches were T’łi’nagila-T’łi’na potlatches, which means he gave gallons of t’łi’na (oolichan grease) away to his guests. My gramp used to say, ‘Giving away t’łi’na was the highest thing for a chief to do, it took a real man to have the means to be able to go and make t’łi’na and then give it away.’
Donna received her BEd from Simon Fraser University and her MA from the University of Victoria. Donna feels it is important for children to learn ’Namgis traditional ecological and cultural knowledge. She has served as Principal of Wagalus Elementary School in Fort Rupert, and worked for 16 years as a Kwakwala language and culture teacher at T’łisalagilakw School in ‘Yalis (Alert Bay).