"Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect." - Chief Seattle, Duwamish
One of the oldest items in my home is a Cherokee buckbrush basket that came to be mine from my father's mother. It is smooth to the touch and reaching into it is like reaching into the past. The colors are like the summer tan I get, deeper browns lay next to lighter hues, as how the sun marks your short sleeve shirt and the line where your sandals mark your feet in different shades.
In 1974 while working as Indian Counselor for the Sapulpa schools I attended an American Indian Basket-making class offered at Tulsa Junior College held on Saturday mornings. What I learned there has stayed with me.
Hepsey Gilroy, was the instructor who must have been the age I am now when she taught the class. I gained the ability to weave reeds into a basket and learned how to make Cherokee doubleweave baskets from a Creek woman! These baskets are double the strength of a regular basket because once you are finished what could be your basket, you actually rather flip it and do it again, thus making it a doublewoven basket.
I learned using commercial reeds that are soaked and used wet. These reeds are rather course and will do, but once you have used buckbrush or honeysuckle which are smooth when they have had the outer bark-like layer removed, your hands certainly feel the difference. Scientific Name Symphoricarpos orbiculatus Family Caprifoliaceae
On my property in Craig County I can go out the backdoor and gather a winter's worth of these runners growing abundantly. The honeysuckle, too much so, so removing these runners help to control their spread. But both work up into beautiful baskets. They are filled with my "things" and become gifts, I can hope to be treasured by those who receive one.
But the point I am making is the availability of the resource and the fact that they are safe to use. There is not a worry in using them, pulling them into my home, working and processing the runners after soaking in hot water, pulling the bark-like layer from the inner white strand lying inside. I can do this.
The people, any person gathering such materials for the home-made baskets in Ottawa County, must consider where they are gathering. Plants can uptake metals. Are they growing in the superfund site? Are they gathering in a yard or near an ally that has been successfully remediated. Are they gathering too close to Tar Creek? or the Neosho River after Tar Creek joins? or either side of the Spring River? How close is too close? Who tells us these things? Where are the warning signs?
What I can do safely, I want you to be able to do safely, without worry.
If Native and you want to base back to your culture, if you are not Native but are wild-crafting, you have the right to a clean environment and you don't have it. And you won't have it unless you begin to yell that you want it or that you want it for your grandchildren and their grandchildren.
EPA will not fix this until we are heard saying very clearly, it is time and we demand it now.
There are 2 EPA repositories in Ottawa County. One is located in the Miami Public Library and in it are all of the documents the Environmental Protection Agency has written concerning the Tar Creek Superfund site. The materials are available for the public to have access: to dig through the facts and the data. The other repository the public has no real access to. It is the place all the dirty dirt is taken when EPA/DEQ removes the contaminated soil from your yard, the parks, the school playgrounds in this county. It is stacked up and smoothed over an area about 15 acres and perhaps 8 stories high just a few miles north of Miami, and west, just feet west of Tar Creek.
If you were a weaver and like to make cattail mats, there are lots of cattails growing on that road to the repository, but you should not use them, not yet, they are loaded with heavy metals, they are sucking those metals out of the ground and keeping them in every single part of those plants. But there are no warning signs there either.
Yes, I want the land healed and I want you all alive and well to see that it is done and done right. Be there to do that, live through this pandemic, do everything for us all to be there together. Get vaccinated, care about yourselves and the future of the land and water here. Let's weave these thoughts together, lets gather our materials and weave the future together too.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim