lhḱwaỈus (Burden Basket)

About this object

History of use

Burden basket. Interior and Coast Salish cedar-root basketry was historically made to serve a variety of functions, from baby cradles to storage, and even for cooking: water held in a robust, tightly constructed basket could be brought to a boil by adding fire-heated rocks. Decorated, tapered-form burden baskets were made for gathering resources of different kinds; these were often made watertight by sewing the coiled bundles of split roots tightly together; they would have had a woven tumpline attached to be worn around the forehead, freeing the wearer’s hands for picking foods like berries. Tumplines, whether plain or geometrically patterned, had multiple other uses, such as packing bundles or straps for carrying guns or gear. By the mid 1800s, manufactured iron pots and kettles had been available for decades and were replacing the laboriously made cooking and storage baskets in Indigenous households. Baskets in old and new forms began to be made for sale and trade in the settler economy. Such production grew in economic importance as Indigenous women sought wage-earning opportunities and as increasing numbers of tourists and collectors desired well-made decorative items to display in their homes. Many local collections of Salish basketry were formed during the early- to mid-20th century, when basket makers would set up in urban centres or go door-to-door in neighbouring non-Native communities, selling their basketry for cash to settler women or trading it for second-hand clothes, yard goods, and useful household items. Of great appeal to buyers were baskets like this one with its elaborate, imbricated patterns — “flying goose” in the upper half, and “cluster of flies” below — made with strips of prepared cherry bark and light-coloured grass that appear as a series of folds, overlapping and tucked beneath each cedar-root stitch.


Collected in 1904, this burden basket has been attributed to Mary Ann Dan of Mount Currie.

Iconographic meaning

The horizontal lines on this basket have several documented meanings. The most common are: rainbow, necklace and grasshopper. In rare instances this pattern may represent a grave box.

Physical description

Large flared rectangular coiled basket (bifurcated stitches). Parallel splint base construction. Upper half is fully imbricated ("flying goose" pattern) in black and red bark. Lower half has ("cluster of flies") checkerboard pattern in black bark and white grass, and red bark and white grass.