Maple bark skirts are made from the inner bark of a maple tree. My mother, Mary Jane Risling, made my skirt. While I have helped her with gathering and assembling maple bark skirts before I didn’t help make this one because I was living in Washington D.C. at the time (too far away to be able to offer assistance). Maple is a strong and resilient tree but there are certain times to gather the bark from certain sized maple. It is critical that a person gather at the right time, at the right place and in a good way to ensure the gathering place is maintained.
I have worn this maple bark skirt at other activities, such as a Winnemem Wintu ceremony I attended with my adopted grandmother. I also had the opportunity of wearing a maple bark skirt at the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian. I still wear this maple bark skirt and, as long as I take care of it, I plan to continue to wear it.
When I was dancing in the 1990’s and early 2000’s I didn’t see any maple bark skirts. I'd heard of them before as what we, women and girls, would have worn 200 plus years ago as our everyday clothes. We’d wear them daily and complete activities like gathering basket materials or weaving. My aunt refers to them as “work skirts” making a clear distinction between maple bark skirts and our ceremonial skirts made from deer hide.
The first significant instance, in my mind, when I wore a maple bark skirt was when I was Miss Na:tini-xwe’, AKA, Miss Hoopa Valley. As Miss Na:tini-xwe’ I represented my tribe at various local, regional and national events. I traveled to New Mexico to compete for Miss Indian World at the Gathering of Nations, the largest powwow in North America. I never wanted to be a powwow princess but it did provide me the opportunity to share my culture and traditions and learn about other Tribes.
This picture is of me when I wore the maple bark skirt at a grand entry at Gathering of Nations. I was one of the only dancers that had an outfit made out of natural materials from my traditional territory. At Miss Indian World there were events where I was required to sit, travel and do things that were difficult in our ceremonial dresses so I selected to wear a maple bark skirt because it was more practical but still a form of traditional clothing from my area.
Viola Chummy Brooks (Hupa/Yurok/Karuk) lives in Sacramento. She continues to participate in ceremonies and dance demonstrations throughout 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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