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Native American Tribe Creates Prized Baskets


Native American Tribe Creates Prized Baskets
Native American Tribe Creates Prized Baskets

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Native Americans in the United States have been weaving baskets for centuries. Archeologists have discovered baskets that are thousands of years old. They were used to hold food and other supplies, and for sacred rituals. But many baskets made today are for decoration. The Tohono O'odham in (the southwest state of) Arizona live on the second largest reservation in the U.S. They weave baskets that are prized for their quality.

Rose Martin has inherited a family tradition. "My mother's the one who taught me how to do basketry when I was about 10 years old and gave me that gift to weave," she said.

She and other weavers on the Tohono O'odham reservation in Arizona create some of the best Native American baskets. The intricate, tightly woven baskets feature the colors of plants and grasses in the region.

Rose has won awards for her baskets. She weaves in the same style as her ancestors who lived in the desert and harvested fruit and vegetables.

Some of her baskets have traditional designs, while others contain original patterns.

"And I put a butterfly on here because I feel everything that a woman does is always so beautiful," she explains.

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Rose begins by weaving grasses into a round base, called a spoke. Then she fills in the sides of the basket with different weaves and patterns.

Before that, she goes to her garden and gathers devil's claw, a plant she weaves into her baskets. Devil's Claw and other plants used in basket making were once plentiful on the reservation. But now they are hard to find. So Rose goes to homes outside the reservation where she can pick a plant called bear grass for free.

"I just go up to the resident, and I ask if I can gather bear grass. They say 'Sure, why not, I've been trying to get rid of those weeds.' So I pick it and practically clean their yard," Martin said.

Basket weaving for the Tohono O'odham is more than art. There's a shortage of jobs on the reservation, so it's a way for people to support themselves.

Rose says she will sell the basket she's weaving for more than $100 and the larger, more elaborate baskets may bring in more than $1,000.

Rose has 10 grown children and says the money was especially important when they were young. "I weave at night and what I make was to pay for baby food or whatever," she said.

Her baskets are sold at this cultural center on the reservation. Rose's daughter Clovia works at the center and says the traditional Man in the Maze design is popular. "It's a way of life to us. From the center is when you are in the womb," she states, "And as you are going out, it is the way of life, your struggles, and what you have to go through in life. And when you pass on, you go to our creator."

To Rose, basket weaving is a way to preserve the culture and traditions of the Tohono O'odham. She hopes Clovia and her 6 other daughters will follow in her footsteps.

"To keep basketry alive, and I hope they carry it on for my great grandchildren too," Martin said.