Todd DeVries, G̱iihlgiigaa (pronounced “Heath-gee-ga”), has many reasons to be proud of where he is today. A weaver from Haida Gwaii, but based in Vancouver, B.C., G̱iihlgiigaa started his path to become a weaver many years ago, when he searched for his mother.
He was part of the Sixties Scoop and was separated from his mother for “about 28 years.” G̱iihlgiigaa started searching for his mother in 1996, and says, “She found me.”
“[I] put an ad in the paper and she called me and showed up almost right away.”
For the next few years after reconnecting with her, he noticed a lot of Haida people were artists and was wondering why he wasn’t good at drawing or illustrating and says he also wasn’t much of a carver or whittler. All that was left was weaving. And later that summer, G̱iihlgiigaa had a vision that would put him on his path.
One day, he was tending to a garden and decided to head into a cabin he was caretaking when he had this vision of “the old woman in the forest.” The next day, he phoned the Skidegate museum in Haida Gwaii what seeing her means.
“And they said, ‘Well, you have to figure that out. That’s a message for you.’”
G̱iihlgiigaa went online and typed in “the old woman of the forest story” in a search engine and found Nuu-chah-nulth in South Vancouver Island had a story where if you ever met the old woman of the forest and you lived to tell the tale, you’ll be given the gift to teach weaving.
After this, he went to the library in Nelson, B.C., where he was living at the time to see if he could find any books on cedar weaving and didn’t find any except for one book that showed how to harvest cedar bark, but not how to weave.
It wasn’t until he went back to Haida Gwaii to visit his mother where he learned a few techniques from some Haida teachers, but hit a bit of a roadblock when he couldn’t find a teacher to teach him more.
“No one was willing to teach me because they say, you got to learn from your family, your clan. And I couldn’t find any weavers in our clan,” said G̱iihlgiigaa.
Eventually, a woman named Sherry Dick showed him how to make a Haida hat.
“She said, ‘I expect to be here for another month, okay.’ And I ended up doing it in 10 days, my first hat.”
Sherry wasn’t his only teacher. He went to Ketchikan, Alaska, with his mom to meet his aunt Holly Churchill, where they ended up staying for three weeks.
“Holly taught me over the breakfast table. She’d be weaving a basket and said, ‘Can you do this?’ And then I would copy her. And she wouldn’t teach me unless I brought some baskets and showed that I had any,” said G̱iihlgiigaa.
When he came to Vancouver he started working for a restaurant called Salmon n’ Bannock for six years, until friends of his started encouraging him to write grants so he could start teaching weaving.
He decided to do it, and wrote his first grant proposal in 2016 and submitted it with him eventually being awarded the grant. He used it to open up to 16 weavers and taught them the basics of weaving.
He then quit his job at Salmon n’ Bannock because he couldn’t do both at the same time, and has been writing grants every year since then and teaching full time. Nowadays, he is a popular commodity and says he works full time at home and part time at organizations. He’s taught at community centres, schools, post-secondary schools, women’s groups, senior groups, youth groups, and now Connected North through video.
Special thanks to Jasmine Kabatay for authoring this blog post.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.