The Akimel O’otham Weaver’s Circle: A Space for Weavers to Thrive
Gila River Indian News
Traditional O’otham basketry, in essence, reflects a rich preservation of O’otham culture. Like the plant fibers that comprise a basket, the basket connects most Akimel O’otham even today.
In another sense, one could say, “A display of good baskets is, to me, like a gallery where the individuality of many artists is represented, and I no more think of the imperfections of design and workmanship than if such a thing never existed.” The Pima and His Basket (Breazeale, 1923), a book that documented the art of O’otham basket weaving through the lens of an Arizona archaeologist in an attempt to preserve the culture he witnessed in the desert lands.
In each perspective above, a distinct truth is woven, and this year, many found the chance to weave their own at the Huhugam Heritage Center’s (HHC) O’otham Weavers Circle.
The Akimel O’otham Weaver’s Circle began Jun. 13 at The Huhugam Heritage Center (HHC), where three fellow basket weavers shared their passion. Joshua Yazzie, District 5 GRIC member, August Wood, from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, David Pecusa, Hopi, and GRIC member welcomed new and experienced basket weavers into a classroom space for individuals who wanted to learn and continue the practice of O’otham basket-making.
Additionally, students learned about the tools and materials required, where to harvest the material, and the process of preparing to create an O’otham basket. Classes would be hosted for four months, twice a week and every other Saturday, for the dedicated Weavers willing to learn the craft.
“There are many different ways to have a finished basket. Despite you (students) having your devils claw split into two ways or four ways, you’re still ending up with a basket in the end,” said Yazzie. He also explained that creating the weaver’s circle with various basket weavers would help students learn different techniques. This model would better cater to their basket-making and build upon their abilities for the craft.
“Joshua and myself have been constantly producing pieces on our own, and so we kind of have that background of making baskets, and so being able to show them (students) what we have been able to create while also getting students together so they can learn,” said Wood.
Through June and July, the O’otham Weaver’s class began with the harvest of Devil’s Claw and preparing their tools for the art. As the heat from the outside lowered in temperature, the weavers were seen outside harvesting the materials of Willow and Cattail. “I know it’s not ideal because those are the hottest months, but that is when the material is ready to be picked and start making your own basket,” said Wood. All staples to a genuine O’otham Basket. Later, in August and September, the class spent their time inside the classroom at HHC processing their materials and taking the first steps in creating the foundation of their baskets.
“Learning baskets, for me, it was sort of a way of filling a gap and figuring out a part of who I am,” said Pecusa. He, like many other students in the weaving class, began with a curiosity about how to make a basket and wanting to find a connection to their own cultural identity.
“The reason I became interested in weaving was to learn the culture,” said Grace Porter, a student of the Akimel O’otham weaver’s class and Community member from GRIC. Porter explained that her favorite part of the class was the different ways of learning how to make a basket but also how she was able to go into nature and gather the materials. This information would help in the future so she knows what to look for independently. She also mentioned that the most challenging part for her was the patience it took to prepare the material used for the basket. “There’s so much more to weaving than people know, and I’m finding that out as I go,” Porter said.
The class concluded on Sept. 30 with a new generation of 12 O’otham Weavers. The three instructors gifted student’s basket-making tools and personal photos of their time in the weaver’s class. Students learned that the images will be archived for the future O’otham people. Students also received honorary glycymeris shells for their completion in the class as they prepare to continue the art of O’otham basketry and only time will tell if they will take their place as the next generation of Akimel O’otham Basket Weavers.