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The Work of Tribal Hands: Southeastern Indian Split Cane Basketry

In May 2002, a unique conclave of Southeastern Indian basketmakers gathered at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. This gathering was the first intertribal basketry workshop/ discussion group that directly addressed issues of Southeastern Indian basketry and basket weavers. It became obvious from the onset that many styles, forms, and techniques, and a wide variety of raw materials, could be found in southeastern basketry traditions. What seemed most ancient, most indigenous, to Southeastern Indian people was the use of river cane and the weaving of split cane basketry. It seemed in order, after hearing the weavers address concerns and discuss traditions, that cane basketry be the focus of a collection of papers dedicated to a variety of related issues.

To make the present work relevant to a wide audience, particularly to the weavers themselves, we tried to balance historic perspective with contemporary concerns. We asked people from within tribal traditions or those who had long connections to Southeastern Indian arts and crafts—including people from different marketing venues—to write about aspects of cane basketry. This volume speaks to the ancient, the new, and the continuation of the art of split cane basketry. It is apparent from these essays that all the doomsayers who have gloomily predicted the demise of the baskets and their weavers are wrong—a happy message for this work. Southeastern Indian weavers may adapt and innovate; but clearly, the underlying traditions remain strong.