Julia Parker sometimes dreams of baskets. After 40 years of weaving baskets and serving as a cultural interpreter with the Indian Cultural Program at Yosemite National Park, Parker, a Kashaya Pomo, hopes others will continue to share her dreams.
Sunday’s Family Day at UC Berkeley’s Hearst Museum provided Parker and her daughter, Lucy, such an opportunity to share. The two demonstrated a hands-on approach to the art of native Pomo style basket weaving, told stories and played native games with an audience of both parents and children.
Though the elder Parker did not originally speak the native Pomo language or know how to weave the traditional baskets, she researched her ancestors practices and quickly became an adept weaver. As a National Park Service ranger in Yosemite Valley, the elder Parker’s duties were to both weave baskets and speak with the public.
“After a while they said put down your baskets, you have a lot to say. So I started and now I can’t quit talking,” said the elder Parker.
At the event, Parker and her daughter explained both the practical techniques of weaving and the cultural context of the tradition, emphasizing the importance of patience and resourcefulness.
“Putting together a basket is like putting together a house. We want it to last,” said the younger Parker. “We can’t go to K-Mart or Target to buy our things. So, it’s our responsibility to learn to take care of these materials, these plants.”
According to the younger Parker, who is of Miwok, Paiute and Pomo descent, the materials for the baskets are mostly area specific. The younger Parker and her mother rely on red willow, a plant found on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas near Mono Lake, to construct their Pomo style baskets. While most native groups use willow for weaving material, sumac and various roots including bracken fern root and sedge root are also used.
Constructing the native baskets, used for gathering supplies, preparing food or as toys for children, is a very personal experience according to the elder Parker.
“Each basket tells a story. In our classes we can tell things about the people through their baskets, through the designs,” she said.
The mother and daughter team have crossed the country sharing the history and techniques of their craft. The two hold workshops and camps throughout the year and are often invited to share their knowledge at cultural centers.
For Barbara Takiguchi, coordinator of public programs for Hearst Museum, the mother and daughter represent a link between information and material culture. The cultural interpreters are a part of this year’s “regeneration theme” at Family Day, an event run by the museum for the past 12 years.
“We were looking to make the collections come alive. Julia and Lucy are prime examples of that search. We wanted to provide access to and take the next step to present these objects and this history to the general public,” said Takiguchi.
The four generations of the Parker family represent a strong example of the preservation of history through family.
For the younger Parker, preserving history can be thrilling but also overwhelming. “We get very apprehensive, we want it right now. It’s so important for us to carry this on,” she said.
Researching the traditional dance, games, clothing and weaving from three separate tribes has left the younger Parker well aware of the vastness of her ancestor’s cultural history and the importance of preservation.
For the mother and daughter, teaching is the best way to preserve. “We can teach each other and the best way to learn is at home, to teach your family,” said the younger Parker.
For Takiguchi, showing children the similarities of culture is a critical step in eliminating prejudices. “I always thought the program should show what makes us similar, what makes us human. With Family Day, when the children start to see that, they don’t form judgments, and that can be extremely valuable,” said Takiguchi.
According to Oakland resident Janet King, much can be learned from the cultural presentation. “I think this is about time. We’re such a fast culture, we’re always worried about time. To take the time to do a basket, I think a lot of people will realize the prayers, the thoughts that go into this. It’s not about how fast you make it. It’s not about speed,” said King.
Sunday’s presentation provided parent Burke Treidler an opportunity to expose his daughter to something she otherwise would not get the chance to see. “I wanted to find something cultural for the kids to do,” said Treidler.
By the end of the presentation, the elder Parker led a circle of children in a traditional Native American gambling game played with dice made from walnuts. As Parker instructed the children on how to play the native game, she added “You know, we like to have fun every once in a while too. We aren’t always weaving baskets.”