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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Basket Maker Places Emphasis On Sharing Skills Of The Past
by Ken Luchterhand - Hocak Worak Newsletter

Lila Greengrass Blackdeer has a talent she hopes won't be lost.

She's a black ash basket maker and she's been teaching many Tribal Office Building employees the skills of the craft.

For about three weeks, she has been meeting with Donna Littlegeorge, Sandy Winneshiek, Natalie Bird and Tina Warner. And while they're making their baskets, Lila has been teaching them the Ho-Chunk language, especially the terms for the materials and the directions for creating them.

"I've been making baskets since I was 5," Lila said. "I would take the scraps that other people left behind and make small baskets."

When she was young, her parents had a basket stand on Highway 12 between Millston and Black River Falls.

So, with her knowledge of basket making and the Ho-Chunk language, the four women asked if Lila would teach how to make baskets. Lila provided the materials and the know-how.

"They did real well," Lila said. "Now, they would be able to make baskets on their own and make their own designs."

Lila said that she has been teaching craft making for years.

"I teach them from the tips of their toes to the tips of their heads," she said. She teaches how to make earrings, also called diagonal weaving, hair streamers, hair wrap, moccasins, and roaches. She also tans hides.

"I made the whole outfit for the Marquette Warriors mascot," she said.

Her dress applique sashes are on display in the Milwaukee Museum and she has a basket display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

In 1999, Lila received a national award from the National Endowment for the Arts. She was presented the 1999 National Heritage Fellowship Award, which is the country's most prestigious honor for accomplishment in folk and traditional arts. She was recognized for her work in black ash baskets, moccasins, yarn sashes and hair wraps.

To help keep the knowledge of craft making alive, she has passed some of that ability to the four women at the TOB.

"It was both fun and frustrating," Winneshiek said. "You have to keep the black ash strips wet and tight. Lila was very patient with us."

"We learned patience and listening skills," Littlegeorge said. "Hardly anyone makes baskets anymore."

Lila said that she will be showing people the whole process, staring with a log. Black ash wood can't be transported because of the emerald ash borer infestation occurring across the country, so the training will have to occur near where the tree has been harvested.

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