What does it mean to be part of a continuum of knowledge?
I live along the edge of a large estuary called the Salish Sea. It draws in salt water from the Pacific Ocean two times a day, and collects the drainage of fresh water from rivers that originate in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains and beyond. Population density, urban sprawl, and newcomers to the area who have not properly valued and cared for the natural resources, have put great pressure on forests and waterways and the native plants that are specialized over thousands of years to grow well here in the forests, riparian areas, wetlands, intertidal zones, meadows, prairies, and in the Salish Sea itself. These are the spaces in our landscape that provide biological services for everyone – clean air and water, a buffer for floods and fires, habitat for a diversity of fauna and flora, the sources of our medicines and foods. Placing the highest value on preserving, restoring and sustaining Pacific Northwest natural ecosystems, plants and resources, is in everyones best interest.
Since time immemorial, those Indigenous to the Salish Sea, their ancestors and descendants today work to sustain the resources. It’s only taken a few hundred years for colonizers, immigrants and their descendants, to discard the core value of reciprocity with all living things. These are the people who the late Upper Skagit Elder, Vi Hilbert, with compassion, referred to as “pitifully ignorant people”. But Coast Salish Peoples continue to teach their children the cultural value of reciprocity. And one, of many ways these cultural values are passed on to the next generation is through the teaching of traditional crafts.
I am forever grateful to all my Indigenous teachers for opening my mind and heart to: a way of understanding my place in the world; a way of organizing knowledge based upon seasons and cycles; a way of recognizing and caring about the gifts of plants and creatures; and for teaching me a way to care for myself by being creative.
Why have I been teaching the craft of weaving with plants for 38 years? Because of my teachers. They have taught me that traditional basket making requires three things. Living teachers willing to share their knowledge; living ecosystems where Native plants can grow; and living students who take the time to learn and then help others know.
Basketry is a living art and craft. When we learn and share we become part of an important continuum of knowledge and cultural values.