Archive | March, 2009

Website Launch

31 Mar

At noon on Monday a team of the Ziibiwing Center and Saginaw Chippewa IT staff launched a whole new look for the Ziibiwing Center website. 

The new design is more user friendly with tons more information. 

“It’s probably more than quadrupled in size,” said Jennifer Jones, graphic designer.

One of the new features is a Wish List.  This is a list of items from colored paper to new artifacts for our collection that the Ziibiwing Center staff hopes to acquire to continue making the museum the best place to learn about Anishinabe history and culture.

Check it out for yourself by clicking on the official website link to your right, then comment here to let us know what you think.

The First Baskets

25 Mar

Black ash basket making is a very important part of Anishinabek culture.  But how do the Anishinabek people of today know how to make baskets? 

Renee “Wasson” Dillard, a basket maker who came to visit the Ziibiwing Center, told the story of how the native people learned how to use the trees in the area.

Hundreds of years ago there was only one Anishinabe man named Nanaboozhu.  It was his job to name all of creation.

One day he was walking and feeling very lonely, for he did not have any friends.  This made him very sad.

Frowning, he continued to walk the earth when he heard a voice call out.

“Nanaboozhu!  Nanaboozhu, I want to be your friend!”

It was Birch Tree.  For in those days all of creation spoke the same language.

“You will be my friend?” asked Nanaboozhu.

“Yes,” replied Birch Tree.  “And I have a gift for you.”

This made Nanaboozhu very happy. He had not even asked for a gift! 

“You can have my first layer of bark,” said Birch Tree.  “And with it make baskets and canoes.  And don’t worry about me, Nanaboozhu, my second layer of bark will protect me.  I will be okay.”

“Thank you Birch Tree.  That is a very good gift.”  And so Nanaboozhu continued his walk, feeling much happier now that he had a friend.

Soon another voice called, “Nanaboozhu, Nanaboozhu!  I want to be your friend.  I have a gift for you, too.”

It was Cedar Tree. 

When Nanaboozhu came over to him Cedar Tree said “If you dig just a little ways into the ground, you can take some of my roots and use them to sew up your baskets.  That way you can use them over and over.  And don’t worry about me, as long as you don’t take too many I’ll be just fine.”

“Thank you Cedar Tree,” said Nanaboozhu.  “That is a very good gift, and now I will always remember how you are my friend.”

Well, now Nanaboozhu was very happy.  He had niizh (two) friends now, and wasn’t feeling very lonely at all anymore.

He continued on his walk and heard Pine Tree call out to him.

 “Nanboozhu, I want to be your friend!  I have a gift for you. I want to give you my lifeblood.  Collect it when it comes out of my body to make pitch. You can use it to seal your baskets and canoes to make them waterproof.”

“Wow,” said Nanaboozhu.  “That is a very good gift.  Thank you Pine Tree.”

Nanaboozhu was feeling very happy now.  He now had nswi (three) good friends.

And still another tree called out to him. It was Basswood Tree. 

“Nanaboozhu,” he said.  “I want to be your friend.  And I, too, have a gift for you.  If you take just a strip of my bark, and put it in the stream for many days, it will turn into strings and you can make rope.  Then you can carry your baskets on your arm.  And don’t worry about me, as long as you take only a strip, I will not die.”

“Thank you Basswood Tree.  That is a very good gift, and you and I will always be friends.”

Nanaboozhu could not stop smiling now.  He had niiwin (four) friends now; Birch Tree, Cedar Tree, Pine Tree, and Basswood Tree.

Not wanting to be left out, Maple Tree called out to him next.

“Nanaboozhu, Nanaboozhu!  I want to be your friend and I have a gift for you.  In the spring time sap comes out of my body and you can catch it with your baskets.  Then you can make maple syrup and maple candy.  And don’t worry about me, it won’t hurt me at all.”

Nanaboozhu loved to eat and was glad maple tree was now his friend.   Naanan (five) friends are a lot!

It was then a voice from deep within the swamp called out to Nanabozho.

“Nanaboozhu, Nanaboozhu!  I want to be your friend.”

Nanaboozhu walked to the edge of the swamp and looked in to see who was calling.  There in the middle of the swamp stood Black Ash Tree.

Mud and muck surrounded Black Ash Tree, and Nanaboozhu did not want to get his moccasins dirty. 

So he waved to Black Ash Tree and called “Thanks Black Ash Tree, we will be friends.  See you later!”

“No, no, Nanaboozhu, you have to come here.  I have a gift for you.”

Nanaboozhu sighed, put all of his gifts down and took off his moccasins to begin his walk through the swamp.

In the beginning his shoulders were slumped and his lip was out.  He did not want to walk through the wet, muddy swamp.

But soon he felt the mud squishing through his toes and he liked that feeling a lot!  And when he finally reached Black Ash Tree in the middle of the swamp he felt much better.

“Okay, Black Ash Tree,” he said. “I made it.  What is your gift for me?”

“I am going to give you my life.”

Now Nanaboozhu felt ashamed.  He didn’t want to walk through the swamp when Black Ash Tree wanted to give him such an important gift.  So he listened very carefully as Black Ash Tree described how to use his body to make beautiful black ash baskets.

“But don’t worry about me, Nanaboozhu,” said Black Ash Tree.  “Even though I won’t be a tree anymore my spirit will live on in the baskets and every time you carry one you will remember how Black Ash Tree is your friend.”

“Thank you, Black Ash Tree.  That is a very good gift.  I will always remember how we are friends.”

So Nanaboozhu returned home with ngodwaaswi (six) new friends, much happier now than when the day had started. 

When more Anishinabek came along, Nanaboozhu taught them how the trees’ are our friends, and how to use their gifts.  Those people taught their children, and their children taught their own children, and so on and so on for generations, until now I’m telling you.

Please continue to share this story to your friends and family so that it continues on to the next seven generations.

Now visit the Let’s Chat page and tell us what the trees give us still.  Then learn all the Anishinabek numbers on our Let’s Learn Ojibwe and Let’s Play pages!






Basketry Workshop with Renee “Wasson” Dillard

16 Mar

This past week the Ziibiwing Center hosted Renee “Wasson” Dillard for our Artist-in-Residence program.  This program is designed to give 20 lucky people the opportunity to study for one week with a skilled artist in various areas of American Indian art.


Dillard’s specialty is basket making. I found it to be an absolute treat to hear her speak about her art and teach others basketry.


One of the most interesting things I learned, and the hardest to wrap my mind around, was that you cannot get the materials to make a black ash basket from the store.  You can’t walk into Wal-Mart and come out with perfectly shaped splints and weavers.


To get the materials to make a black ash basket, a basket maker must trudge through the swamp to find a tree that wants to be baskets.  The tree should be between 60-75 years old and its age rings must neither be too thin nor too thick.  Once an acceptable tree is found, sema is offered to thank the tree for giving its life.


Once the tree is cut and hauled, the process of pounding the age rings begins.  Pounding is a long process that involves stripping bark and using the blunt end of an ax to pound up strips of bark.  After the strips are pounded out, the basket maker must split the strips, and then shave them to make the wood smooth.


Perhaps in writing it doesn’t sound like much, but simply preparing the materials is 75 percent of the work when making a basket!


“Weaving is the easy part,” said Dillard.


While I definitely have a new appreciation for the baskets I see in our exhibits, it is actually the baskets in our gift shop that I am most in awe of.  These baskets were made during a time of modern technology, a time where it’s so easy to let the machines do the work instead of our hands.  Yet people continue to make hand woven black ash baskets to keep this unique and special art visible to the current generation and the next seven generations to come.


To find out about our upcoming Artist-in-Residence workshops including corn husk figures, quillwork, and beadwork, visit our website through the link on the right.