Sheri Samson
Student Cierra Johnson practices her cleaning of the pine-nuts while instructor Rogers-Desoto looks on while playing a drum song.

As the Zoom Grant yielded summer funds for cultural trainings, some Schurz children took advantage of the program held throughout the month of June at Schurz Elementary School. Diane Romano and Pamela Wells were on hand to facilitate a week of basket weaving knowledge, which included a guest artisan, Rosemary Rogers-Desoto. Rogers-Desotos is the daughter of Betty Rogers, a well-known Paiute basket weaver from the Yerington area.

To begin, the children gathered outside around the American flag to give a chant song as their silent pledge toward the flag. Rogers-Desoto explained the significance of the drum song – “as the Indian men which served their country overseas would speak of their homeland, their families and their respect for this county.”

Once inside, a review of Paiute words, as well as the explanation that a region was known as Paiute, but the people themselves were called “Numu People”, meaning Native American People. Their native food source were pine-nuts, which were on hand for a demonstration, as Cierra Johnson gladly took her turn to shake the basket, rocking them into the air in a traditional, 50-year old method of cleaning the pine-nuts. As Johnson concentrated on her task, Rogers-Desoto shared another drum song about the blessings of the pine-nuts.

A poster on the wall showed a hand-drawn Paiute basket with facts surrounding the art piece. The children had written essays about using the willow branches by the water or using baskets to carry the water, as the Paiutes were known for their baskets.

Caden Johnson read his research-styled paper that was full of facts about the Paiute basket-making, including the fact that men were hunters and women were gatherers. Georgia Quintero combined a story about Burden Baskets that had straps to carry added things. She included facts that the baskets were also made with horsehair and decorated with beads. Carlos Ortero shared his view of their lesson in a poem style, beginning with “water, water, water” then taking his rhythmic words on a talented journey of visual interest.

With a table set with various basket sizes and types, the children learned things about making their own Paiute baskets. Dark, wet horsehair was spun into water dishes, as longer blonde horse hair laid in bunches, ready to be tied off into a dainty circle to begin their own basket-making techniques.

Rogers-Desoto instructed the kids with threaded needles of dark horsehair, teaching them the stages of building and sewing their own tiny baskets into shape.

“Your baskets start at the bottom with a tiny circle and build up; sewing in the darker strands as you loop the thread gives a pattern and makes your basket smooth. You keep wrapping your blonde hairs in a circle, coming up to create height, but also you will learn to shape your basket as we go,” she explained.

The children concentrated on the processes, accompanied by some adult help. They asked questions about stitching-time, as Rogers-Desoto showed some beaded baskets which took 3-4 weeks to complete, while others with leaf stitching only took a week. Horse hair was always wet or oiled to be less brittle in the bending and stitching of basket-making. She emphasized that every difference of a basket meant a different use or function.

In completing the day, the importance of meditating and sending good thoughts while making a basket was an important component in creating a basket. Songs and prayers were used to give good thoughts from a clear mind and that was the Paiute way of blessing others.