Exploring the legacy, impact and eventual extinction of the Salish Woolly Dog has been an important part of Indigenous Cultural Programmer Senaqwila Wyss’ work with MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver (115 West Esplanade). In 2021, Senaqwila hosted Woolly Wednesdays, a series of online knowledge sharing and discussion forums on the now-extinct Salish Woolly Dogs. The first of the sessions is publicly available on MONOVA’s YouTube channel.
And, beginning 10 May 2023, the MONOVA team is excited to continue Senaqwila’s work on this topic through the public presentation of Stém̓xwulh: Woolly Dog Weavings at the Museum of North Vancouver, featuring two rare Salish Woolly dog ceremonial robes.
Bred by Coast Salish Peoples
The Salish Woolly Dog (or Comox dog) is an extinct breed of white, long-haired, Spitz-type dog that was developed and bred by the Coast Salish peoples of what is now Washington and British Columbia.
The small, long-haired woolly dog and the coyote-like village dogs were deliberately maintained as separate populations. The dogs were kept in packs of about 12 to 20 animals, and fed primarily raw and cooked salmon. To keep the breed true to type and the preferred white color, Salish Woolly Dogs were confined on islands and in gated caves.
Since the Salish peoples did not have sheep and wild mountain goat wool was difficult to gather, fur from Salish Woolly Dog was used to make the famous and rare “Salish” ceremonial robes. The dogs were sheared like sheep in the spring.
The ceremonial robes were prized items in the pre-contact ceremonial distribution economic system, and were incredibly valuable. The dog hair was often mixed with mountain goat wool, feathers, and plant fibers to change the quality of the yarn and to extend the supply of fiber.
Impacts of Colonization Led to Extinction
Senaqwila Wyss asserts that the decline and eventual extinction of the Salish Woolly Dogs was the direct result of colonialism.
Narratives in various academic and online sources claim that Salish Woolly Dogs were bred into other breeds, that the Salish people “gave up” on the dogs, and that Salish people preferred European trade blankets over their own Woolly dog blankets.
Senaqwila Wyss, however, challenges these assumptions, arguing that the direct impacts of colonization, including the coinciding timelines of residential schools, the banning of cultural practices, and Government of Canada’s genocidal policies, were all contributing factors leading up to the extinction of the Salish woolly dog.
“Through my different Indigenous communities, it has been shared with me that many communities actually had the RCMP or government kill the dogs on the shoreline,” added Senaqwila Wyss. “The Salish Woolly Dogs were part of the colonial genocide that happened to Indigenous peoples and this discussion series gave us an opportunity to talk about that in more detail.”
Public Viewing of Stém̓xwulh: Woolly Dog Weavings
Beginning 10 May 2023, Stém̓xwulh: Woolly Dog Weavings will make two rare Salish Woolly Dog ceremonial robes available for public viewing. One robe from MONOVA’s collection will be displayed publicly for the first time in over a decade and a second robe is on loan by Terrence Loychuk, a textile collector.
The exhibit was developed by Indigenous Cultural Programmer Senaqwila Wyss in collaboration with Guest Curator Nadin Hassan, with the display and content organized in collaboration with MONOVA’s Indigenous Voices Advisory Committee, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Nation, Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nation, and local Salish artists.
The ceremonial robes will be on view alongside contemporary artworks and reflections on the Salish Woolly Dogs by Salish artists: Senaqwila Wyss (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh), Chase Gray (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm/Tsimshian), Sarah Jim (W̱SÁNEĆ), and Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun (Snuneymuxw and Hupacasath).
“Through this new exhibit we’re thrilled to continue to build upon our partnership with the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations,” added Director Zoe Mackoff de Miranda. “We’re grateful to Senaqwila Wyss for doing so much to share her knowledge on the Salish Woolly Dog, an important initiative in MONOVA’s ongoing commitment to create space to share stories from the local Nations.”
Members of the Coast Salish communities are invited to a special preview event with MONOVA’s Indigenous Cultural Programmers on Friday, May 5 from 3:30pm to 5:00pm. Light refreshments will be served.
Stém̓xwulh: Woolly Dog Weavings will be on view at MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver (115 West Esplanade) from 10 May to 2 July 2023.
Click here for more information and to plan your visit. Admission to MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver is free for those who self-identify as Indigenous.
Coast Salish programming is generously supported by BMO Financial Group.
We rely on contributions, monthly or one-time gifts, to help MONOVA safeguard and expand our community’s archival and museum collections, build learning experiences and inspire future generations.
Donations are accepted through the Friends of the North Vancouver Museum & Archives Society, Registered Charity No. 89031 1772 RR0001.
We respectfully acknowledge that MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver is located on the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, whose ancestors have lived here for countless generations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work and learn with them on unceded Coast Salish Territory.