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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 24, 2004 - Issue 105


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Leaving her cultural legacy
Nationally known basket maker Rose Cree dies

by Dorreen Yellow Bird - Grand Forks (ND) Herald Staff Writer
Photo Rose Cree with her red willow baskets

Native American people, particularly those of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, will remember Rose Machipiness Old Eagle Woman Cree -- Mindimooye Ginew Ikwe -- as a teacher, spiritual guide and a woman who always did for others.

The art world will remember Cree as one of the most skilled and talented red willow basket weavers in modern times.

Cree passed away Tuesday, surrounded by her children and grandchildren in her home in Dunseith, N.D. She was 82.

Cree and her husband Francis began weaving baskets back in 1965.

"See, this culture almost died out," she told the Herald in 1989. "I learned from my mother in 1936. We started picking it up again so it wouldn't be lost."

Francis Cree would cut willow branches and shape them to make frames. Rose Cree did the actual weaving using willow soaked in water. Fifteen years ago, they sold the baskets for $12 to $125. Today they're worth much more.

Some of her red willow baskets are displayed in the Smithsonian in New York City. Other willow baskets can be found in museums across the United States, Canada and other countries.

The couple were honored with a Governor's Award for the Arts in 1985. In 2002, they were awarded the National Heritage Fellowship, the country's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. The award included $10,000 for each artist.

U.S. Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad presented them an award for lifetime achievement in 2003 from the National Endowment of the Arts.

Nearly blind
Medical problems left Cree with minimal vision, but she compensated with excellent hearing, a strong memory and a touch that allowed her to continue weaving baskets, said Loretta DeLong-Monette, who spoke for mourners after Cree's funeral Friday.

DeLong-Monette said Cree was her mentor and spiritual guide.

Francis is a spiritual leader for the tribe. Cree went with her husband when he traveled, tending to the spiritual needs of the people. Though she couldn't see, she helped him by remembering names and information. He didn't need to write anything down. She remembered for him, DeLong-Monette said.

"She couldn't see me, but she knew me by my voice and the fragrance of my perfume," DeLong-Monette said. "I remember when her son was having problems making a pair of moccasins. Cree took the moccasins and with her fingers helped him through the problem. She was like that." ?

Spiritual guidance
She'll be remembered on the reservation as a woman who did everything for everyone else and little for herself, friends and family say.

She was plagued with hip problems that made walking difficult, but, in spite of her health problems, she would crawl on her hands and knees into the sweat lodges for ceremonies -- sometimes when it was 20 or 30 below outside, DeLong-Monette said. Cree would go into the sweat lodges day after day if someone needed her spiritual guidance. She also provided guidance and mentoring for women who wanted to fast.

One of her greatest loves was traditional dancing. She danced in August at the "Thirty Dance" (Sundancing). She attended powwows and ceremonies and danced when she could.

She lived a traditional life, raising her 14 children to understand the traditions of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She left a legacy of culture, history and language for her children and the people at Turtle Mountain.

Cree was born July 21, 1921, to Thomas Machipiness and Pearl Little Boy. She attended boarding school in Fort Totten, N.D. At 18, she returned home to the Turtle Mountains. She and her husband were married for 64 years. She had more than 130 grandchildren and great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren. She had many adopted children.

"I can't think of her without smiling," DeLong-Monette said.

Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, ND

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