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Native American heritage recalled through weaving

By Derrick Naylor

As National American Indian Heritage Month continues, the First Nations Education and Cultural Center sponsored events designed to spread awareness about Native American society and culture.

On Saturday, the center sponsored a basket weaving workshop in the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center. Those in attendance were taught by Cherokee Nation member and associate professor emeritus of folklore John W. Johnson.

“In contemporary society, material culture, dancing, regalia (and) craft making are some of the only remaining aspects of American Indian culture,” FNECC Director Brian Gilley said. “Thus, it is a way ... for people of Native ancestry to have an aspect of it in their lives.”

Johnson spent the majority of Saturday afternoon guiding participants through the process of making traditional western Cherokee double-wall baskets. Participants wove flexible water-soaked reeds together.

“This is an ethnic art,” Johnson said. “We tend to call it craft, but craft really is mechanical. Art is more than craft. Art is beauty.”

One participant, Bloomington resident Diane Pelrine, stayed close to Johnson as he guided participants through the five-step technique.

“The process seems simple enough, but it can get difficult keeping a good shape for your basket,” she said. “I’m not sure what I’m going to use it for yet, but it’s something interesting to do and a fun, new thing to learn.”

Johnson said crafts like these have a good deal of significance in how the Cherokee remember loved ones who have passed on to the next world.

“The spirits of my ancestors are in these baskets,” he said. “This is a way for me to commune with my ancestors.”

The day was filled with talks about culture, community and friendship.

“Material culture is a perfect medium to communicate the importance of culture to outsiders, generate respect and educate,” Gilley said. 

Gilley, who is of Native American descent, said he hoped many new ideas would be taken away from the events of National American Indian Heritage Month.

“Native people are a diverse and contemporary people always seeking to ground themselves in autonomy and community preservation,” Gilley said. “We are not simply about our struggles and our history but about the various futures we seek for ourselves and other people.”

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