Cloverdale History Center & Museum
To reclaim more than my name, the Ba:bihšaʔmen Basket Collection
My grandmother Ba:bihšaʔmen Vera Jack was born a century ago in a field north of Healdsburg. Forced to live in a world where being “Indian” was frowned upon, she did the best that she could to retain fragments of our culture. For decades the government attempted to strip Indians of our culture and forbid us from practicing our traditions because they were considered to be heathen. This included all things associated with being “Indian”– our songs, our dances, our language and even our basketry.
While my grandmother did her best to fit in, she remembered being ripped out of class as a young girl and prodded at like an animal; they stuck their fingers in her eyeballs, dug down in her ears, and often inspected her hair for lice. It was then that my grandmother knew that she would always be treated as inferior because we were Indian. My grandmother didn’t speak our Native language, but she always held on to her Indian name. I’ve named this exhibit in honor of my grandmother, as she clutched on to what little she was able to retain and what could not be taken away. My grandmother was never ashamed of our heritage regardless of the efforts of the government to terminate us. My grandmother instilled the pride and importance of our Indian culture in her children, and grandchildren.
When I was a teen and wanted to begin making baskets, my grandmother took me out to dig basket roots and introduced me to a few weavers that could guide me because she didn’t have the opportunity to learn how to weave. Unfortunately, two of the great weavers, Elsie Allen and Aunt Laura Somersal, had just passed away months before. I met with Elsie Allen’s daughter quite frequently and called her “Grandma Gen.” Gen had told me that her mom would have just loved the fact that an Indian was so eager to learn. She said that no Indians wanted to learn, so Elsie had to teach whites because she didn’t want our culture to be lost. Gen felt that I’d play a vital part in carrying on our basketry traditions and bringing our traditions back. Because of my love for basketry Gen assigned me the name “sedge” (čo:sinkʰle) the most common material in our coiled and twined baskets.
For decades my education and career took up much of my time and I wasn’t able to weave or teach. Feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt several years ago I started trying to coordinate a gathering of Pomo weavers. Unfortunately, due to wildfire evacuations year after year, these gatherings never happened. Although teaching about Indian ways has many protocols, I decided to set up weaving lessons online just before COVID-19 hit, regardless of the possible backlash. I formed a private Facebook group called the Pomo Weavers Society where I uploaded videos teaching Pomo basketry. Each month I would share a basket material and discuss how and when to gather it, how to process it, and how to weave with it. I often shared baskets of the day and would talk about shapes, colors, designs, techniques, uses, etc. Our group is small, but we all teach and learn from one another in a respectful manner. Our goal is to teach as many Pomo people that are willing to learn, then encourage them to do the same so that our basketry will flourish as it did in earlier times.
Our Pomo Weavers Society gets together for trips where we not only collect and gather basket materials but also maintain our traditional gathering sites. We have visited Museums and viewed baskets in their collections, letting staff there know we are learning from examining the baskets and sharing with them the importance of touching the baskets that our ancestors made. We believe these are not things that are to remain behind glass or in a storage room for no one to see.
The Ba:bihšaʔmen Collection is a living exhibit where Pomo weavers may hold these baskets to inspect, appreciate, honor and ultimately learn how to recreate them. Although we can’t turn back the hands of time, we can attempt to reclaim our culture by any means necessary.
Family, friends and neighboring tribes have gifted some of the baskets in this collection to me, I made twenty baskets in the collection, and have purchased some in trading posts and through online sites in an effort to bring these baskets “home.”
Many of the baskets in this exhibit had found their way around the world and have now miraculously returned back to Pomo Country. I’m hopeful that by good fortune some of the baskets I’ve acquired can now be appreciated by their families. This exhibition of over 100 baskets represents the last century of not only my grandmother’s life but the gradual growth and revitalization that is happening within many Pomo families that are seeking out what was once stolen is now being harvested and growing with great momentum. What had once dwindled nearly away- will now thrive and flourish. The message that I’d like to share is that there should be no shame in reclaiming what was once stolen, it is not your fault for not knowing and there are people out there that are willing to help you restore that void, we will make our ancestors proud by doing what they were forbidden to do.
I thank you for visiting and learning more about Cloverdale’s first People.
With much respect,
Silver Galleto (čo:sinkʰle)