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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 6, 2004 - Issue 108


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Basket Weaving Offers Connection to Ancestry

by Gary W. Morrison - The Grand Rapids (MI) Press
credits: Potawatomi Indian basket weavers, Athens from Battle Creek, Michigan

Potawatomi Indian basket weavers, Athens from Battle Creek, MichiganMONTEREY TWP. -- Margaret Pearce drove almost two hours from her home to reconnect with her heritage.

Pearce, a Marshall resident, said she can trace her American Indian ancestry to the Pottawatomi tribe that was removed from the St. Joseph area to Kansas in the 1800s.

Her ancestors were again relocated to Oklahoma and became known as the Citizen Band of Pottawatomi.

She said she always has been interested in her Indian heritage, so she traveled to Monterey Township to learn the basics of basket weaving from John Pigeon.

"Basket weaving is a part of my Indian heritage, but it's something I don't know how to do," Pearce said. "I met John (Pigeon) at an Indian powwow last year, when he gave a basket-weaving demonstration. When he told me that he teaches basket-weaving classes, I made up my mind to learn."

Pigeon, a Dorr resident, teaches Indian arts and crafts at educational institutions, museums and Indian centers. For the past two years, he has conducted a series of classes in January, February and March, primarily for people with Indian ancestry.

"This is something you don't keep to yourself," said Pigeon, a Pokagon Pottawatomi. "You pass it on so the skill does not die."

At the basket-weaving classes at the Monterey Township Hall, Pigeon starts from scratch. He begins with a black ash tree log and teaches students how to pound the log and remove the strips used for baskets.

He also explains how to select a log. It needs to be free of knots, straight and healthy. If the tree is in a stand of less then 10 black ash trees, he would not harvest it.

"Before we cut a tree, we have a ceremony acknowledging its life," Pigeon said. "It has been waiting for us for 20 years, but we want to acknowledge that it will have a usefulness for years to come."

Jim and Jennie Brown have been making baskets for more than 20 years but attended Pigeon's latest class to keep their skills intact.

"I don't think we'll ever know everything because there is so much to doing this," Jim Brown said.

During the winter, Pigeon conducts the classes with Kelly Church, a local Pottawatomi. Besides basket weaving, they also teach how to make drums and dream catchers.

"We also teach some of the Pottawatomi language and how to prepare sweet grass that is used as Indian medicine," Church said.

The classes will run through March at the Monterey Township Hall. People interested in the classes can contact Pigeon at (616) 681-2534.

"I'm also taking it a step further by showing what else you can do with a log after you have removed the strips you need for baskets," Pigeon said. "There's still enough wood left for Indian bows, spears and other things."

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