My first semester at Humboldt State University (HSU) I asked my parents for a basket hat for my graduation gift. I knew graduation day would eventually come and I wanted to proudly walk across the stage, as so many alumni have done before me, in a beautiful and unique basket hat. No one in my immediate family had ever owned a hat or graduated from college. I wanted to proudly represent my family for this occasion. A hat is distinct symbol of pride and beauty and is worn for all occasions.
I began to ask community members where to purchase a hat. My mother had begun weaving baskets a short time before, so we put our feelers out to other weavers too. Lois Risling, who is a spiritual adviser to me, suggested I attend the Marin: Art of the Americas Show to look for a hat. It was my last semester at HSU so the pressure was on. I had been looking for a hat for two years and hadn't found a hat that worked so far. I prayed to the universe to help us on our search for my hat. My mother, sister and I made our travel plans and we drove 4 hours south to attend the show.
We arrived at the show and I wanted to see everything as fast as I could. I raced through the aisles. I found a few tables selling hats but nothing fit right. I happened upon a woman selling lots of basket hats. They were neatly lining the table and I began trying them on. I didn't know what size I needed but had an idea of a design I liked. I knew when I found it I would know. I really liked a specific hat and it had the design I was looking for. I asked if the seller had any information about the hat and she didn't. Some friends came by and we all chatted about how well the hat fit me. I was nervous about the purchase so I asked the seller if I could go look at myself in the bathroom mirror. She agreed and my mom accompanied me. When I turned to look at myself I began to cry. I knew the hat was mine and she would come home with me.
I proudly wore her the day of graduation. I have worn her at Flower Dances, Brushes Dances and in many community events. My hat represents a sense of accomplishment, beauty, grace, and cultural pride. I have bought many hats since then and cherish them. My mother and sister now own their own hats too. We have worn them together on many occasions. Since purchasing this first hat I have learned how important hats are to our culture and how important they are to me. So many things have changed in my life since purchasing my first hat, but I am blessed because she started a path of healing for me and my family.
Nina Surbaugh-Gibbs is Yurok and lives in Northern California.
The Northwest Coast Regalia Stories Project explores the life stories of cultural regalia pieces for Northwest California Native peoples. Read More...
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