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Weenuk weaves ancient art

TOFINO, British Columbia -- Whaler's hats. Chief's hats. Maquinna hats.
They have a few different names, but there are very few people who can make

One of the only weavers of whaler's hats recently traveled to Europe to
exhibit her creations at the Westfalian State Museum of Natural History in
Munster, Germany. Being included in an exhibit is an honor for any
craftsperson, especially one who only started weaving these
specially-designed hats only three years ago.

Mary Martin, or Weenuk, from the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation near Tofino, has been
weaving for the past 15 years, making baskets, bags, capes and other items
woven in a distinctly Nuu-chah-nulth way.

A few years ago her brother showed her a chief's hat made by famed
Nuu-chah-nulth weaver Rhoda Mack. Martin carefully studied the hat and
talked with weavers Lillian Webster and Elsie Robinson to further
understand how to make the famous Nuu-chah-nulth chief's hat design.

"The amazing thing is how it all starts from a single blade of grass and
blossoms out from there," said Martin. "The knob at the top of the hat is
very important because chiefs and whalers would put eagle down or other
sacred objects in there to help guide them."

When Martin was contacted by a German museum and asked to make a hat for
their exhibit, she saw this as a perfect opportunity to learn a quickly
disappearing skill.

"I figured I was up for the challenge," laughed Martin. "To develop the
skill this far has been hard since there aren't many teachers. It took me
five years to even find someone who could teach me," she said.

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Martin became interested in traditional Nuu-chah-nulth weaving after seeing
a small bottle covered in woven grasses. She is now helping pass on the
skill to others.

With a provincial 2010 Olympics grant, Martin is teaching her daughter,
Trish, the ancient art. She hopes to inspire others to learn how to weave.

"It's important to find the right person to teach you the skills of
whatever art you're trying to learn," said Martin, who learned the craft
from Ditidaht's Julie Joseph. "My dream would be to teach an advanced
weaving course to people who have already started weaving," she said.

Martin was recently featured on the Martha Stewart show, after touring a TV
crew around Clayoquot Sound and giving a brief introduction to
Nuu-chah-nulth cedar bark gathering and weaving.

Having made six hats so far (four of which were sold to German museums and
collectors) and another two on the go, Martin is working hard to breathe
life back into this ancient Nuu-chah-nulth skill.

"It's very satisfying to see the end result of a project, but it's also
good to learn from mistakes; we aren't perfect, so it's OK to make
mistakes," said Martin. "It is important we do everything possible to keep
our culture strong, and teach our children to be proud of our culture by
giving them the skills to pass things on to the next generations."

For more information on Weenuk's weavings, visit