NWIC cultural arts program expands reach

Nine years ago, Northwest Indian College’s Cooperative Extension Department hosted its first Weavers Teaching Weavers Conference at the college’s main campus, located on the Lummi Nation.

The one-day conference provided weavers with a venue where they could share and pass down their knowledge. The event was well received from the beginning – so well received that it was expanded to a two-day conference the following year and currently is a four-day-long event.

Now, after nine successful conferences at the Lummi campus, the event is expanding again, but this time it’s experiencing a geographical growth. This summer, Weavers Teaching Weavers will be held for the first time ever off of main campus. The event will take place in Warm Springs, Oregon, on August 16 and 17, and will be hosted by the Warm Springs Tribe.

“I am very excited to take this event to Warm Springs,” said Susan Given-Seymour, Cooperative Extension Director. “Weavers love to get together and it’s gratifying to have the resources to bring the event to weavers in Oregon. The Oregon weavers will be joined by experienced weavers from the Plateau Tribes of Washington and from Nez Perce. They will all sit down together and teach and learn from each other.” 

The most recent expansion of Weavers Teaching Weavers is happening thanks to a $575,000, three-year grant awarded by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.

In addition to an annual weavers conference that will be hosted by different tribes in Oregon, Plateau tribes of Washington, and the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho, the grant will also support a variety of programs that provide tribal people in these communities with opportunities to learn about and develop skills related to their own tribal histories, cultural arts and tribal museum studies.

The grant is important because it supports endangered cultural arts, Given-Seymour said, not only basketry, but also fiber weaving, regalia making, beading, moccasin making, carving and storytelling.

“Keeping basketry alive through most of the 20th century was challenging,” Given-Seymour said. “Many of our best weavers feel a sense of urgency. They worry that their time is running out, yet they have much to pass on.”

Thanks to activities created by tribes, and organizations like the Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association, and Northwest Indian College, there has been a growing interest in basketry and an increase in the number of weavers, Given-Seymour said, but there is still much to be done.

The Cooperative Extension Departments has hired a full-time cultural studies coordinator, Ethel Greene, who works from NWIC’s campus on the Nez Perce Nation in Idaho.

In addition to helping organize the weavers gathering in Warm Springs, Greene will spend the summer conducting a survey of all the tribes in Washington and Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho, that will inform Northwest Indian College’s development of a budding Tribal Museum Studies program. She will also be working with people from all of the tribes served through the new grant, to identify where and how Northwest Indian College can support the work they are doing in the revitalization of their own traditional cultural arts.

Greene’s position and the survey are also funded by the grant.

Given-Seymour is happy to see the reach of these opportunities expand, and she has a particular fondness for the Weavers Teaching Weavers conference, which she help launch nearly a decade ago.

“I love being around weavers,” Given-Seymour said. “Weaving has been described as a ‘sit beside’ activity, and when we have the conference on Lummi campus, I encourage faculty and administrators to just go for a little while and sit with a weaver. I tell them it will bring down their blood pressure.”

Registration for the Warm Spring gathering is $75 before July 27 and $90 after. For questions or to register, email egreene@nwic.edu or call (208) 843-7409.