Students help weave film featuring Potawatomi basket-making
Students help weave film featuring Potawatomi family, basket-making
by Rick Wilson | The Grand Rapids Press
Monday September 29, 2008, 8:26 AM
ADA TOWNSHIP -- Rachel Swem conceded it's pretty cool to be in a movie. But
she also understands she's part of a larger picture.
The 11-year-old sixth-grader and schoolmates at Forest Hills Goodwillie
Environmental School spent much of last week as a backdrop for a
documentary video conceived to provide a window into the struggles of West
Michigan American Indian families trying to find their place in a society
dominated by people of European descent.
The documentary centers on the Potawatomi family of Steve and Kitt Pigeon
and the ancient tradition of basket-weaving that has been kept alive in
their family for generations.
"We're trying to help document it because, after a few more years, the ash
trees could be gone, and people might forget what the Indians did," Rachel
said. "We want to help people remember the contributions they made."
The project is funded through $16,500 in grants from area foundations,
including $1,200 the students raised themselves. Kevin Finney, director of
Ancient Pathways Cultural Resource Group who helped coordinate the project,
said hopes are the video will reveal the struggle of Indians caught between
trying to preserve their history and surviving in the modern world.
"It's a way for people to get some insight into the Anishinabe," Finney
said, using the traditional tribal word ancient people used to describe
their community. "A lot of people don't realize that we have a large Native
American community here.
"For so many, it's something that's a far-off part of the past."
The documentary will intersperse footage of the Pigeons teaching Goodwillie
students their craft. In interviews, tribal elders tell stories of survival
and hardship as they struggled to adjust to a changing world.
Finney said basket weaving was once a skill as fundamental to American
Indian culture as blacksmithing was to European settlers and, in the 1830s,
provided a connection between the early settlers and native people.
"It was a natural economic niche for native people once the settlers moved
in," Finney said. "It was a way for Native Americans to preserve their
culture and interact with this new influence."
Kitt Pigeon said she and her husband rekindled a skill taught them by
Steve's grandfather, a master basket maker, after her children were
confronted by racism.
"When my children were young, they didn't want to be Indians because of all
the cowboy stuff," she said. "That's when we really got interested in
teaching them our culture."
Steve Pigeon hopes the documentary will shed light on native culture.
"We're a forgotten people," he said. "There are a lot of things that aren't
seen by people.
"They see us going to powwows now and then and think that's it, but this is
something we do every day as a family. It cements us together."
Finney said hopes are the documentary being produced by Klaas Kwant, of
Grand Rapids Community College's Media Services Department, will be
complete this winter and get a public showing in Grand Rapids. It also will
be made available to schools, universities and local libraries.
"In the larger sense, there's a lot of native history in the film from
elders whose families all made baskets," Finney said.
"It explains how all that has slipped away."
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