In addition to the challenge of marketing their work—a task they share with
all artists—contemporary weavers deal with the scarcity of raw materials
or their limited access to them, health risks from the use of pesticides and herbicides
at plant-gathering sites, and the problem of non-Native people making and selling
baskets as “Indian-made.”
Inspired by earlier 20th-century basketry groups, a handful of Native
basketry organizations stepped forward in the early 1990s to address these concerns.
These groups share the goal of promoting and perpetuating American Indian basketweaving.
They work through public education and outreach programs, establishing working
relations with public agencies, and, most notably, organizing yearly gatherings
of basket-weavers. These gatherings include workshops, cultural demonstrations,
and dancing. The public is invited for one or two days to watch the activities
and purchase baskets.
Today, as in the past, each new generation of basket-makers learns from the generation
before. The Passamaquoddy baskets from the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance
illustrate this cultural inheritance. Sylvia Gabriel taught Gal Frey, and Gal
taught her son Jeremy.
The handful of basketmaking associations highlighted here represent the growing
number of such associations across North America.
California Indian Basketweavers Association
Founded in 1992
The California Indian Basketweavers Association’s mission is to preserve,
promote, and perpetuate California Indian basket-weaving traditions while providing
a healthy physical, social, spiritual, and economic environment for basket-weavers.
We work to create a functioning network of basket-weavers who support one another
in their gathering and weaving activities, and who pass our tradition to the next
The California Indian Basketweavers Association (CIBA) formed largely out of a
need to protect plant species used by Californian Indian basket-weavers. Historically,
weavers in California returned each year to specific locations to gather basketry
material, and the health of that land was a personal responsibility. In recent
years private land ownership, development, and farming have restricted access
to gathering sites.
Weavers also express concern that pesticides sometimes destroy the plants they
use and jeopardize the health of the weavers who handle plants. In 1993, in response
to pressure from CIBA, the California Department of Pesticides Regulation promised
to test effects and longevity of pesticide residues. CIBA has also received a
grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study pesticide issues
in Northwest California.
Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance
Founded in 1993
The Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance is a nonprofit, Native American arts
service organization dedicated to preserving the ancient traditions of ash and
sweet grass basketry among the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot
tribes in Maine. The goals supporting our mission are to expand markets for baskets
in Maine and beyond; ensure a supply of high-quality brown ash and sweetgrass
for present and future generations; and provide outreach, education, and apprenticeships
to younger members of the tribes to ensure continuation of the traditions.
The Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac, and Maliseet have been selling their baskets
to tourists, visitors, and farmers for more than 200 years. Like many of the basket-makers’
associations, the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance (MIBA) had its beginnings
in intertribal gatherings of basket-makers who shared concerns about the endangered
ash and sweetgrass basketry tradition.
In the early 1990s the Maine Arts Commission started an apprenticeship program
that MIBA has continued for the past decade. Master weavers spend six months to
a year teaching their apprentices how to prepare and dye basketry materials, as
well as various weaving techniques. Recent MIBA-sponsored workshops combine Native
language-speaking with basketry instruction. These programs reinforce other important
cultural traditions, such as spending time with elders, and boost achievement
and self-esteem. The apprenticeship program has doubled the number of Maine basket-makers,
and some of its early students now make up a second generation of teachers. In
an effort to support these basket-makers and encourage younger people to learn
the art form, MIBA created the Wabanaki Art Center Gallery in Old Town, near Bangor,
where members’ baskets are sold year-round.
Tohono O’odham Basketweavers Organization
Founded in 1996
More than 225 members
The Tohono O’odham Basketweavers Organization is dedicated to keeping
basketry traditions vital. We work with more than 250 weavers to offer classes
to teach weaving traditions and techniques on to a new generation of Tohono O’odham
weavers; establish a cooperative that guarantees weavers access to markets and
fair compensation for their artistry and hard work; and preserve access to traditional
gathering sites and organize trips to gather weaving material.
Virtually all Indian basket-makers’ groups host a yearly gathering and market.
The Tohono O’odham Basketweavers Organization (TOBO), under the umbrella
group Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), boasts the largest convention,
bringing together weavers from more than 20 different tribes. Intergenerational
weaving circles are among the meeting’s highlights, as well as workshops
that equip weavers with important marketing skills.
On the weekend, TOBO welcomes the public to its annual market. Proceeds from sales
go directly to the artists. TOBO points out that selling baskets is an appropriate
contribution to the economic development of O’odham communities, because
it relays traditional knowledge of basketry and helps ensure cultural values.
The weekend includes presentations of dancing, drumming, and singing that promote
the public’s understanding of the cultural importance of baskets for Native
Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association
Founded in 1996
600 voting and non-voting members
The Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association will preserve, promote
and perpetuate the traditional and contemporary art of Northwest Native American
Great Basin Native Basketweavers Association
Founded in 1999
85 voting members
Our goal is to revive, enhance, and promote the traditional art of basketmaking
handed down throughout the Great Basin Region.