MHA Basket making workshop

Submitted by: Ruth Plenty Sweetgrass-She Kills, PhD

Recently nine people had the opportunity to learn how to make traditional Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara (MHA) carrying or work baskets, also known as burden baskets from the master basket maker and MHA tribal elder Gloria Wilkinson. The baskets were constructed using a twilling method where strips of light and dark colored bark were woven around a wooden frame with geometric designs. MHA baskets were used for carrying corn and vegetables from their gardens to the village. They also carried clay pots and other cooking utensils in them when they moved from their summer village to their winter village. In the winter they were also used to bring in snow to melt for water. 

The workshop consisted of three full days of learning the history baskets, their construction, and making their own basket under the guidance and supervision of Wilkinson. Lisa Casarez said, “It was a fun week learning a new skill and visiting with everyone. It’s great seeing a lot of effort and enthusiasm to revive our traditional arts and skills. Grateful for the opportunity.” Jayli Fimbres said, “My life has consisted of fulfilling things that seem impossible. Basket making is a sacred art that has been making a comeback in time. I’m extremely grateful and blessed to be taught by a friend of my grandmother, Gloria Wilkinson. She told me they use to visit in hiraaca. It was such a special and heartwarming learning experience that I’ll do my best to carry on. It’s so crazy how familiar it felt and that all of these things are still in our DNA.”

The Indigenous Environmental Network’s (IEN) Just Transition Project, Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College, and MHA Interpretative Center collaborated to offer the workshop. The IEN puts the principles of Just Transition into action by “stopping the bad to building the new,” which is healing and meant to plant the seed and feeding and nurturing the Good Way of thinking (https://www.ienearth.org/justtransition/). NHS College supports the preservation and perpetuation of MHA cultural knowledge through the Native American Studies department, as well as the cultural content in all the courses they offer. NHS College continues their work in agriculture and food sovereignty to strengthen the food systems on Fort Berthold. Growing and gathering traditional and local foods, as well as using traditional tools like burden baskets, are part of that work the college is doing. The MHA Interpretative Center has a classroom dedicated to cultural education classes and workshops.  They provide opportunities for MHA tribal members to research our culture through access to their archive, as well as experience other aspects of our culture and history. 

The collaborators who supported offering the workshop envision a future of our people carrying our traditionally grown and gathered foods in our own locally made traditional burden baskets. At the end of the workshop, Wilkinson shared her intention with the workshop participants, “I gifted you with my story, create your story and pass it on to future generations.”

For information about future basket workshops, contact Loren White at [email protected] For more information on upcoming fall food preservation seminars, to participate in NHSC “pick your own” garden produce program, or to learn more about NHS College’s Food Sovereignty initiatives check out our Facebook page (NHSC Holistic Gardening & Wellness Community) or contact Jessie Uran ([email protected]) or Ruth Plenty Sweetgrass-She Kills ([email protected]).