A CONNECTION CARRIED
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was asked by weaver Jackie Colegrove if I would like to attend her basket class after school. With guidance, I learned to gather different materials on the hillside and along the river, each material prayed for, gathered, processed, and sorted. Learning this and taking only what you need, I gained an appreciation for the work involved in a basket before you begin to even put two sticks together, as well as the beauty and abundance that is the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation where I grew up. None of these materials are found in stores. Only after you have gathered them can you delicately tuck root and fern behind stick, row after row in different designs, all the while putting good intentions and prayers into your creation.
Weaving also is very practical. My teacher used to tell me “you’ll never go hungry if you are a weaver” and so far I haven’t through my years in undergrad and now grad school. There’s always a need for baskets so long as people have dances and babies, and I’ve made several for my mom and aunt to use for acorns and other foods. Weaving also teaches you patience, and requires math skills for designs to come out. Some baskets
have designs within designs, each one with a name, and the old ones were never planned out on paper, only in the minds of practiced weavers. Jackie helped me plan my basket and design on graph paper and I decided which colors to use.
It took a year of weaving but I finished and danced my cap my senior year. I wear it today and let others borrow it for ceremony too. I enjoy seeing young girls wear it and their eyes light up when they learn who made it. In a time when we can walk into a big box store and see basket designs on mannequins unsourced, and never know the people that make the clothes we wear every day, basketry reminds us that true connections and roots cannot be commodified. Some of the baskets we still use were made by my great grandmother’s mother and grandmother. I realized making my cap that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will remember me even if they never met me as they dance and use the baskets I make. Through basketry, I can always carry with me a connection to my land, my old people, and to future generations.
I am forever thankful to Jackie for lighting that spark in me and for the time that she put into me. I look back to that time as a time that I began to come out of my shell as a young woman and the memories with the ladies from basket class are forever. I feel like a rich woman, she gave me something that can’t be replaced. I look forward to passing on the same spark and teachings to my daughters, nieces and granddaughters someday. I hope they make caps.
Kayla Carpenter is a PhD Candidate in Linguistics at UC Berkeley. She continues to basket weave.
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