A collection of large cedar root baskets came to us at R.J. Haney Heritage Village and Museum. The Secwepemc baskets were created for sale in our community. The donor, Delta Saddler, explained that her parents, Max and Twink Ladner, had bought them when they lived in Salmon Arm. The baskets had been in their Vernon home for years. Delta inherited them but it was time for her to downsize.

I explained that we no longer collect First Nations artefacts at the Salmon Arm Museum. We collect for our sister organization, the Mary Thomas Cultural and Heritage Sanctuary, located on Neskonlith Reserve in Salmon Arm. We document donations, but they will be passed on. It was a board policy adopted in 2010.

Delta explained that she had talked to Mary Thomas several decades ago. She was attending the Grebe Festival and met with Ernie Philip, a friend. He wanted to introduce her to someone. That’s when Delta met Mary. She asked the esteemed Elder what she should do with the baskets when it was time to find another home for them.

Mary’s response was thoughtful. “Give them to the Salmon Arm Museum.”

The response, delivered decades earlier, hit me hard. Mary’s wish was that the baskets be returned to our community. She had faith in the care they would receive at the Salmon Arm Museum.

Delta was unaware that I’d planned an exhibit on Dr. Mary Thomas’ impact on our community. COVID-19 had delayed it a year. The finishing of the village carried on, but our temporary gallery exhibits were put on hold. I couldn’t meet and photograph people who were going to participate in the project. It wasn’t safe. No one was meeting.

Delta drove her large collection to Salmon Arm and stopped for lunch at the much loved Shuswap Pie Company. It was an outing and she brought along a friend. Delta hasn’t lived in Salmon Arm since 1952, but she knew this dining hotspot!
The collection is sitting on acid free foam in the museum’s climate controlled incoming area.

I wonder if Mary would mind if I placed them on display as a part of her exhibit in 2021/2022? Something tells me that she would think it was okay as long as the labels interpreted how the baskets were made.

And of course there’s always a story.

Mary once told me she used her baskets regularly. They weren’t just a piece of art. Mary explained that the young women in her community took plastic buckets to pick berries with her. Mary used her homemade baskets. She said there was a lesson in using them.

“When you’re not using the plastic buckets, they get left around. Kids kick them, they get broken. When you aren’t using a cedar root basket, you value all the time and energy spent making it. You take care of it. The next time you want to pick berries, it is there.”

A lesson indeed.


Dr. Mary Thomas

The late Neskonlith Elder Dr. Mary Thomas spoke about the importance of bridging communities during the youth training year end ceremony at the Mary Thomas Learning Centre, a font of experiential teaching that focuses on native culture. A short interview by Duane Marchand in 2005.