Kelly Church / Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians
I come from the largest Black Ash basket making family in Michigan. I come from an unbroken line of black ash basket makers. We have a photo of my family making baskets from 1919, but my grandmother said once “We made baskets before they made cameras”. I am an Artist and Activist who teaches Anishnabe Communities how to make baskets, and the effects of the Emerald as Borer on our Native traditions. The EAB was first discovered in Michigan in 2002. Since the discovery, Michigan has lost over 500 million ash trees, and the invasive pest has spread to 23 states and 2 Canadian provinces. A black ash tree seeds every 5-7 years. The EAB can kill an entire ash stand in 3-5 years. Time is critical for seed collection and teachings. I educate the public about the importance of seed collection and storage of ash seeds, so that we may regrow our ash trees in the future. I work with Native Youth of all ages, teaching them how to identify, harvest, and process black ash trees so they will have these teachings to pass on when the trees are brought back in the future. I document with videos and photos the process, travel around the Great lakes sharing the teachings, in hopes of sustaining the traditions for the next 7 generations.
My art is woven with these traditional materials in the style of traditional baskets we still use today, and intertwined with metals, and photographs to create baskets that tell a story and make a statement. My “7th generation Black ash basket” is woven with a vinyl blind and string and one strip of black ash. It is to show that we will be able to pass on our weaving methods, but not the most integral part, the harvest. It also speaks to how dependent we are on man made materials today.
As a Tradition Bearer, It is my responsibility to pass the teachings onto the next generation and looking for ways to sustain the tradition for future generations to come.