MISSOULA - Mother, Séliš educator, and entrepreneur, Aspen Decker is a creative who is keeping traditional native ways ‘alive and well’.
“Xwlxwilt means alive and well. And I thought that was a fitting name for our business because we are always striving to be alive and well within our language, our culture, and it is who we are, like our entire livelihoods," Decker shared with MTN News. "And so, we want to be able to share this knowledge with the next generation of speakers and learners.”
This knowledge is the different tribal ways of living through language and art, among many other practices and traditions. Due to boarding schools, Aspen’s family did not speak Salish for four generations.
“That time era was when a lot of our Indigenous kids, they were removed, and like taken, stolen from our families. And not able to talk our language or practice our culture. But a lot of art came out of like you know those boarding schools," explained Decker.
"And having these like different books, that they would just do art right over it. And I feel like it was their way of expressing themselves and being able to have a voice. And all their cultural knowledge, they were able to finally you know express it through ledger art," Decker continued.
During her childhood, Decker went to a Salish immersion school and is a fluent speaker of her native language, which brings her an immense sense of identity and belonging. Decker also studied Tribal Historic Preservation at Salish and Kootenai College and then received her Master's Degree in Linguistics from the University of Montana.
Influenced by the boarding school era, culture, and tribal matriarchs past, present, and future, Decker created the newest ledger art series, “Strong Women Matriarchs”
“I like to use my ledger art to teach about like our ancestors, some of their stories, like some of the knowledge, the things we did a long time ago and so using art as a teaching tool.”
Aspen also does a lot of traditional art like toolmaking, basket weaving, and beading, “I call it art because it’s, it’s like an artifact.”
Artifacts, also known as belongings, are traditional cultural items. They are handcrafted items; pieces of artwork themselves.
“All of the work, the making process that goes into a lot of these belongings, is an art process [of] its own. All of the protocols for gathering our different native plants, or making our tools; the bark from the trees, we do it in a way that is safe for the trees. And you know we wanna protect them and make sure that they continue to live and are healthy and that we have that reciprocity, that relationship with the land,” Decker concluded.
To buy, see, and learn more from Aspen Decker visit her website https://xwlxwilt.com.