By SEAN ROWLEY
Taking an active role in cultural preservation, several people attended a class Thursday to learn how to weave traditional baskets at the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians Wellness Center.
The class was sponsored by the UKB John Hair Cultural Center and Museum and taught by Cindy Hair, a tribal tradition keeper. Dinner was included and all materials were supplied.
“When I was young, I used to watch elders make baskets,” Hair said. “I asked a neighbor if she would teach me, and she told me she had been praying that I would learn to weave baskets.”
As some in attendance discovered and Hair already knew, basket weaving is a skill that must be honed with practice.
“The first few times I tried, my baskets didn’t look very good,” she said. “I prayed and promised that if I learned to weave baskets, I would teach others.”
Hair was named the first UKB Tradition Keeper during the 2005 Keetoowah Cherokee Celebration. The designation recognizes Keetoowah Cherokee artisans, elders and craftspeople who devote their skills to cultural preservation and education.
“I have been doing this for at least 35 years,” Hair said. “I have taught my grandchildren how to make baskets. My granddaughter is weaving them and she is only 7 years old.”
Over the decades, Hair said she has lost count of how many baskets she has made and how many people she has given basket weaving instruction.
“Sometimes we go to schools, and there may be 100 children there,” she said. “I once made 50 tiny baskets and eight larger ones to hold centerpieces for a wedding. I absolutely love making baskets and everything about it. I am so thankful for this.”
Ernestine Perry, JHCCM director, said the museum always looks for opportunities to avail traditional arts and activities to the public.
“Classes like this allow us to interact with the community,” Perry said. “We also offer classes showing how to create cornhusk dolls.”
Perry said the recent legal battle between the UKB and Cherokee Nation has affected the outreach activities of the museum.
“We are understaffed due to some layoffs,” she said. “But we are optimistic that we will again be able to offer finger weaving, story telling, stickball. We hosted an intertribal stickball game last year that drew over 600 people.”
Two events associated with basket-making are planned next month. Buckbrush and other natural basket materials will be collected near Moodys on Nov. 9. Participants will meet at the JHCCM at 10 a.m.
The materials will be prepared at a gathering at the pavilion on the tribal celebration grounds at 10 a.m. on Nov. 16.
“In addition to buckbush, honeysuckle vines are also a good basket material,” Hair said. “Buckbrush needs to be boiled for 4-5 hours, then the skins need to be removed.”
For information call the JHCCM at (918) 772-4389.