NWIC cultural arts program expands reach

Aug 11th, 2013 | By | Category: 25-1: Art & Symbolism, Tribal College News
MASTER WEAVER ETHYL WARBUS

WONDER OF WEAVING. Master Weaver Ethyl Warbus teaches a student at NWIC’s Weavers Teaching Weavers gathering, an annual conference that helps preserve the art of weaving. Photo by Maxine Stremler

Nine years ago, the Cooperative Extension Department at Northwest Indian College (NWIC, Bellingham, WA) hosted its first Weavers Teaching Weavers Conference at the college’s main campus, located on the Lummi Indian Reservation. The one-day conference provided weavers with a venue where they could share and pass on their knowledge.

Due to its great success and popularity, the conference has expanded into a multi-day event. This summer, Weavers Teaching Weavers will be held for the first time away from the main campus. The event will take place in Warm Springs, Oregon, on August 16 and 17. The Warm Springs Tribe will host the event, but they will be joined by experienced weavers from the Nez Perce and the plateau tribes of Washington.

The geographical expansion of Weavers Teaching Weavers was made possible by a $575,000, three-year grant awarded from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. In addition to the annual weavers’ conference, the grant will support a variety of programs that give Warm Springs and other regional tribes opportunities to learn about and develop skills related to their own tribal histories, cultural arts, and museum studies.

Susan Given-Seymour, the Cooperative Extension director, says the grant supports endangered cultural arts, including basketry, fiber-weaving, regalia-making, beading, moccasinmaking, carving, and storytelling. “Keeping basketry alive through most of the twentieth century was challenging,” Given-Seymour says. “Many of our best weavers feel a sense of urgency. They worry that their time is running out, yet they have much to pass on.”

Thanks to the local tribes, the Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association, NWIC, and the weavers themselves, there is now a growing interest in basketry and an increase in the number of weavers. “I love being around weavers,” Given- Seymour says. “Weaving has been described as a ‘sit beside’ activity, and when we have the conference on the Lummi campus, I encourage faculty and administrators to just go for a little while and sit with a weaver. I tell them it will bring down their blood pressure.”

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