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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 17, 2004 - Issue 111


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UWS student shows how weaving ties into Native American history

credits: photo 1: Navajo Late Classic banded blanket with indigo dye and wonderful variegated tans, c. 1875-1880. 4'5" x 6'2".; photo 2: Very unusual Navajo Yei pictorial rug, with the Yei figure changing to rain midway down, c. 1935. 3'6" x 5'2"

Navajo Late Classic banded blanket with indigo dye and wonderful variegated tans, c. 1875-1880. 4'5" x 6'2".For UW-Superior student Renee Lorence, what was supposed to be a two-month stay with a Navajo family in the southwest turned into a six-month stay and lesson in a very important tradition.

While studying at a college in Vermont, Lorence participated in the Sterling Western Program. She found herself wanting a "more traditional adventure" and ended up living with a traditional Navajo family. A member of the family taught her how to weave.

"About 50 Navajo words and four rugs later, I left," Lorence said. She has been back to visit the family many times.

Lorence told an audience in the Rothwell Student Center skylounge on Wednesday about how cultural and political history tied in with the tradition of weaving. Lorence said weaving played an important role in helping the Navajos rebuild their life after events such as "The Long Walk." Sheep were used for wool and meat, and trading posts were places to trade rugs made from the wool.

Lorence also said that as decades have gone by, the style of weaving has changed. She said in the 1920s there was a "revival of natural dyes" and a return to traditional styles of weaving.

Lorence explained that in the 1930s the government wanted a stock reduction of sheep. She said the government wanted to purchase the sheep from the Navajos to feed hungry Americans, and in return the Navajos would get land compensation. Lorence then said that in 1937 the government took many of the animals, causing a breakdown in living patterns.

Very unusual Navajo Yei pictorial rug, with the Yei figure changing to rain midway down, c. 1935. 3'6" x 5'2""They felt the independence was gone," Lorence said as she read to the crowd from her paper. "Sheep provided psychological and material security."

Lorence said the link between the laws made and the people affected is crucial.

"There's often the negative connotation that they don't do any work," Lorence said. She said when you look at the manifestation between the laws and what happened to the people, you can discover the link.

Lorence had samples on hand of work she had done, including the first piece of weaving she worked on. Before starting a demonstration on her loom, Lorence told the audience about the popularity of dying the wool used in weaving.

"People are getting back into dying wools," Lorence said. "(Historically), two main dyes were used — blue, which came from indigo, and red. The red dye is from an insect which grows on the prickly pear."

Lorence began her explanation of using the loom with a lesson in using each part of the loom, including using the warp and the combs. After watching Lorence weave a row, she invited audience members to participate. For UWS junior Andrea Boulley, watching and trying were two different things.

"It was harder," Boulley said. "I'm Ojibwe, and I can do beading, but I've never done weaving before. It's similar in that it takes patience — you can't make a rug in a day and you can't make a piece of beadwork in a day. I never thought about what it takes to make each row."

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