I began weaving in the summer of 2007 while working on a commercial seine boat near Alert Bay, BC where I was born and raised. Our tie up man took me and his son Kyle into the woods to show us how to harvest the bark. I had a passion for the plants on our coast for a few years now, and can remember picking huckleberries during my childhood and still enjoy it today. One day I heard the way that the old people picked berries: into baskets that let their hands be free, because it was attached to a headband. The desire to make this style of basket was so strong that I created it without a teacher or book. I decided that the cedar would guide me, and share the gift it gave to our people when we first began weaving with it. It seemed that the bark wished to become a basket form again, because it came together so easily, like it wanted to carry some berries and to not sit on a shelf in a museum or gallery and admired, but to be used in a traditional way.
First I made the strips, the walls were constructed first and for a long while after, I contemplated how to make the bottom. When this was complete, I figured out a way to make a handle. I picked thimble berries, blueberries, huckleberries, and salmon berries into it all summer, until my headband basket was complete. When that was finished it was my greatest pride, I wore it with such pride and it made a way of berry picking available that hadn’t been lived for generations. Since then I have had many teachers: Kerry Dick and her mother, Sherry Dick, Donna Cranmer, and Victoria Edgars have shared their knowledge with me and I am very grateful, because the women in my family have lost our knowledge in my opinion because we were successfully assimilated and forgot who we were. I was not raised with this, it is something that has come back and needs to be remembered.
In potlatches sometimes there is a prayer for people who are lost, and I feel like I have come home. More people are coming back as well and it gives me a lot of hope for the future; we are learning to be with each other again and this is so important because we are nothing without each other. I spent twelve years of my life in Alert Bay and had never connected with the culture or felt it. I don’t know who I was before this happened simply because it has become so much of who I am. It is such a great feeling to have found the biggest part of my identity as a person, and to be there for the next generations as well.
In addition to her work as an artist, O’Brien is a professional athlete and has been profiled in Snowboard Canada Women’s Annual. From the article: She says that when she weaves, her focus is “creating something outside of herself, but snowboarding is inwardly focused, and I can feel my whole body, not just my hands.” She likes the different sensations and decided to figure out a way to pursue both of her passions at the same time.
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