Resiliency of Native American Women Basket Weavers from California, Great Basin, and the Southwest
Native American women from the American Southwest have always used basket weaving to maintain relationships with nature, their spirituality, tribal histories, sovereignty, and their ancestors. However, since the late nineteenth century, with the emergence of a tremendous tourist industry in the American West, non-Indians have perceived Native American basketry as a commoditized practice with no connection to tribal traditions or spirituality. Non-Indians often viewed Native American women basket weavers as submissive individuals who became part of the market economy and abandoned their tribal traditions. In the early twentieth century, anthropologists and art historians believed in the narrative of the “Vanishing Indian,” which led museum officials to collect baskets as the last remnants of a “once proud people.” Officials maintained these ideas until the 1990’s. During the last decade of the twentieth century, Native Americans scholars pushed back against these dominant narratives by acknowledging the harsh realities of settler colonialism. Even more extraordinary, researchers placed Native American women at the center of their arguments to affirm their adherence to cultural traditions and their continual commitment to tribal continuity. Despite these accomplishments, however, scholars have not applied this research to American Indian women basket weavers. Because of this absence in the historiography, numerous non-Natives continue to believe indigenous basketry of the American West is an art form that lacks traditional methods, continuity, techniques, and cultural connections to communities.
To combat these preconceptions, the following dissertation will examine the lives and works of four Native American basket weavers from California and Nevada. Basketry has always been a way to honor traditional values and assert a woman’s individual sovereignty, as a tribal member and artist. This is because since ancestral times American Indian basketry has played a significant role in indigenous communities in California and Eastern Nevada. More importantly, this dissertation will focus on exploring the tremendous amount of power these women exerted when establishing boundaries over who they would teach their art form. Overall, the four indigenous women in this dissertation all show that basket weaving manifests unique pieces of art and have always been an important part of their identities and communities.