Birch bark baskets are made to be filled. They have intent and purpose; they carry out activities of a daily nature, they signify a cultural existence. Metaphorically an empty basket is useless; it does not have the capacity to fulfill its purpose. What causes the cultural existence to cease? Does it ever cease to exist?
While I was in the NAPAT program, we were to make something within the traditional arts. My original intent was to create a birch bark basket like my grandmother used to. The only problem was I didn’t have my grandmother to help make it. That then became a reoccurring theme in my creative process. My grandmother was my at home connection to my culture. So I had to study the basket, make a pattern from the basket of my grandmothers that I had borrowed from my mother.
It was a long and laborious process considering the fact that I was self teaching myself with guidance from Barb Marchand of course. But with my own hands I built and rebuilt a birch bark basket.
I put all my heart and soul into the making of this basket. Effort was pulled from places I had not realized were with in me. For all that effort, perfection was inevitable, that is until I could not close the holes at the bottom of it. How could it ever hold anything?
So I figured my basket was going to sit, beautifully made and empty. Empty of the culture, empty of the purpose. Empty. I got mad at myself. Kicking myself for not paying closer attention. If I had only paid more attention to her when she was teaching by example.
I lived next door to my grandmother until she passed away in 92, I visually ingested the cultural practices but rarely participated, thus my basket sat not only empty but full of holes.
After few years of dust collecting I started digging indian potatoes with my daughter. After we cleaned them up I put them in the basket and took their picture. My holy basket cradled the food of our culture.
I decided to allow for my daughter and her class to use my basket as part of their dance performances in the community. My holy basket the centre of their interpretation of our cultural activities.
And I realize, just by being in her presence, my Granny ensured our connections. And as long as I have even my holy basket I know it will never be empty of culture.