IMAGE Liz Babcock (Turtle Clan) listens to Rose Tompkins's (Wolf Clan) instructions

Liz Babcock (Turtle Clan), left, follows Rose Tompkins's (Wolf Clan) instructions on creating small, round baskets.

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Baskets Carry Meaning

On a cold and snowy day, Oneida Elders gathered to create simple baskets in the craft room at the Ray Elm Children and Elders Center. The hand-crafted designs turned strips of wood into a basic round basket. But this is a craft that for years meant so much more to the Oneida.

With most of the Oneida’s land base taken away by the 1790s the Oneida way of life had to adjust. To make a living many turned to crafting baskets to sell to non-natives (see more at The Art of Basketry).

But fast forward to today, and many Elders Program Participants are eager to learn the art – some learning for the first time. Tammy Patterson (Wolf Clan), activities leader, along with her mother Rose Tompkins (Wolf Clan) stepped up to show participants the basics of basketry.

“Many hand-made crafts, like making baskets, were completed in the wintertime because you couldn’t do much else,” Tammy explained. “Baskets were used for many things, from washing corn, to collecting berries.”

Traditional crafts classes such as this are among Tammy’s goals for the group. This month the focus will be on wampum beads, having the group make gauntlets and work on a traditional belt.

The Oneida Indian Nation Elders program is open to Nation Members and other American Indian clients of the Health Center. A weekday meal is served to participants and a variety of activities are planned to help improve the lives of this treasured group.

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