As the Indian Counselor for Miami, and before that Sapulpa, learning native based skills would allow me to be able to pass learned skills forward to students.
Before "discovery" the tribes in the Southeast found all they needed to survive within their surroundings, they used what they had and they had a lot of rivercane (Arundinaria gigantea). It was grown, managed and encouraged because it could provide the weapons needed for war, for hunting, could be made into baskets and even used to make music!
Through the week, I cut rivercane and made a knife, arrows, a blowgun, and the darts topped with the down from thistles and the flute I never tuned up.
All those years ago, I have longed to have access to this magical material, but the stands of rivercane are rare we are told within the Cherokee Nation boundaries. But I have kept my eye out for it none the less. This week barely out of Vinita on the north side of the road what ???? Rivercane. Nothing is as tall and appears as proud.
I walked down the steep incline and up to the fence line. From here to yonder, thick, healthy, tall and the most awesome sight. So much had been there some had been brush-hogged down.
All those years ago, at the Rivercane Roundup, I also learned to use cattails to make mats, but more fun, I learned how to make cattail duck decoys. There is a special thing about these cattail duck decoys, once they are made, they have attitudes, the way they hold their head, tilting it just so, gives each one a personality.
So naturally when I got back, I started immediately looking for both rivercane and cattails. Rivercane has been rare to find but back then, boy cattails were everywhere I looked! They were growing in a bar ditch right in front of the Miami High School, they were growing in Commerce near George Mayer's brick factory, where he had kept his horses until acid mine water started shooting up out of the ground and got his horses all spattered with orange water. And the other place cattails grew like crazy was in the Tar Creek Superfund site, all around the mine water discharging and flowing into Tar Creek.
All the cattails we would ever need, and so many people who wanted to learn how to make cattail duck decoys of their own. The Cherokee Volunteer Society members were cleaver, always thinking of ways to bring awareness of the issues faced here, and they had been thinking about having a Duck Race and had already gotten permission from some authority at Grand Lake to hold a Grand Race, with our standard yellow rubber ducks, each numbered before being released at that bridge on Douthit, where that mine water enters Tar Creek, each with the message:
" I came from Tar Creek How Far Did My Pollution Go? "
There would be a grand prize for the person whose duck went further. It would be so much fun!
BUT then what if we used the handmade cattail duck decoys? And we based people back to their culture by creating a craft our ancestors made, using materials they would have used. It wouldn't get any better!
By then we had learned from Niall Kirkwood, the co-author of PHYTO that some plants were hyper-accumulators, and as such could actually take up heavy metals into the plant tissue, and as such could expose all our craftspeople to heavy metals if the cattails we used were contaminated.
We took samples from those 3 places that the cattails were growing in such quantities and sent them to the Harvard School of Public Health to have analyzed and waited. It wasn't long until we received the results, all of the sites' cattails were loaded with heavy metals, in all parts of the plants.
All these years we have waited to be able to use local cattails and teach this skill and let those personality plus ducks loose in a big race. We can't do it yet. These places still are contaminated, with the exception of the Miami High School cattails. When EPA remediated that area, the cattails never returned.
But it is time, and LEAD Agency is gearing up for a regular rubber duck race. We have all waited 42 years to be able to reclaim our Tar Creek. 42. According to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe, 42 "is the answer to everything." And it is our year to begin the RACE for cleanup.
We are going to be launching practice runs and time our ducks to see how fast they are from one bridge to the next. Go ahead and get your duck into shape, start trimming your time, figure out which duck operates in your advantage. Or sponsor a duck. You still have time.
Ducks, on your mark....
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim