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Button blankets on display in interpretive space

July 21, 2017
Deb Davis

At the Royal Roads Library, information is leaping off the page. With this month’s launch of an interpretive space, library users can now engage with research through face-to-face conversations and visual displays, as well as the written word.

According to University Librarian Rosie Croft, the new use of the space for scheduled knowledge-sharing events is another way of supporting education. “Research can be shared in formats beyond the traditional vehicles of books and journals. This space will enable all of us to engage with Royal Roads research and education in exciting ways.”

The buzz of activity at the July 6 opening of the first event, the Button Blanket Project, confirmed that the approach is both dynamic and popular. Students, staff and visitors joined artist, Maxine Matilpi, in conversations about her Indigenous heritage and the making of more than 25 ceremonial button blankets and dance aprons displayed on walls around the room. Her stories are supported by handouts that range in topic from the history of shell buttons to Big House protocol.

Matilpi is a member of the Ma’amtagila and Tlowitsis nations. At the age of 7, she was introduced to the making of button blankets, a type of ceremonial robe, by her mother and grandmother. In this early role as their assistant, she sorted buttons, threaded needles and cut fabric. In 1984, she began creating her own traditional regalia and exhibiting her work in North America and Europe. Her family owns 112 button blankets which display the family crest and are worn by men and women for ceremonial occasions.

“It’s important when we can share who we are and where we’re from,” says Matilpi. “It shows we are active in our culture.”

At the opening, visitors followed Matilpi as she walked toward a green blanket she feels best incorporates key images in her work. For the next 10 minutes, she discussed the cultural and personal significance of the design, such as the Kulus figure that represents the Ma’amtagila family crest, the butterfly to honour her mother and fabric shapes and colours to represent the longhouse, tree of life, mountains and Mother Earth. The conversation continued as Matilpi invited questions and enthusiastically provided information about her artwork and ancestry and experiences of Indigenous People on Vancouver Island.  

To encourage a better understanding of these traditions, Royal Roads students and staff were invited to make their own mini-button blanket. As well, visitors to the interpretive space gathered around the cutting-table to watch Matilpi create a button blanket for the library, to be installed and unveiled in September.

The Button Blanket Project is an example of the commitment to Indigenization at Royal Roads. According to Asma Antoine, Indigenous Education Manager, the aim is to share authentic cultural knowledge in an open and welcoming space.

“We want to help navigate difficult conversations and to bring the Royal Roads community together through education,” she says.

The Button Blanket Project was supported by generous donations to the Royal Roads Library Fund.