Tribe mem­bers har­vest wil­lows for bas­kets

Re­cent rains led to crop of reeds along Salt River


Af­ter re­cent rains, a lush crop of reeds has grown along the banks of the Salt River. On Satur­day, a group of about 20 gath­ered to har­vest the reeds and wil­lows to make tra­di­tional bas­kets.

The gath­er­ing sprouted from a part­ner­ship be­tween the Gila River In­dian Com­mu­nity Ur­ban Mem­bers As­so­ci­a­tion and the Phoenix Parks and Re­cre­ation De­part­ment.

Phoenix al­lowed the group to col­lect the reeds on city prop­erty.

Mul­ti­ple mem­bers from Ari­zona tribes par­tic­i­pated Satur­day with tools in hand. The har­vest­ing of reeds and wil­lows has been a long tra­di­tion. Bas­kets are used for stor­age, cook­ing, sto­ry­telling and cer­e­monies.

Yolanda Elias, who is in her 60s, has been har­vest­ing reeds since she was 13. At the time, she said, she wasn’t fo­cused on it and just wanted to ride her horse and play base­ball.

“This is a lot of work,” Elias said. “But I started back up when I was 27. ... Once you learn from your el­ders, it stays with you.”

She said she ap­pre­ci­ated the op­por­tu­nity to teach the next gen­er­a­tion — and get some help with the la­bor.

“It’s nice to teach the young,” she said. “When I go har­vest on my own, I make sure some­one very young comes with me, be­cause you need that young strength.”

Elias stood on higher ground from the peo­ple har­vest­ing so that she could take in their reeds and strip them clean so that the ma­te­rial was ready to be­gin craft­ing into bas­kets.

The goal for ev­ery­one was to find 6foot reeds. Elias said gen­er­ally peo­ple strip them when they are freshly pulled from the water be­cause it’s eas­ier to do then. The reed is then cut in half and dried for about three days.

The cat­tail por­tion of the reed, re­ferred to as the “corn­dog,” is used to de­ter­mine whether the reed is ready for har­vest. In some tribes, it is also used in cer­e­monies.

“Bas­kets back in the days were our tools,” Elias said. “Nowa­days, it’s for school. I teach cul­ture, tra­di­tional bas­ket danc­ing. Nor­mally, bas­kets are made dur­ing win­ter­time when all your sto­ries

“I make sure some­one very young comes with me, be­cause you need that young strength.” YOLANDA ELIAS HAS BEEN HAR­VEST­ING REEDS SINCE SHE WAS 13

are told and then in spring they are brought out to show at the spring­time dance.”

An­other har­vester, Del­phia Graves, 65, said she has har­vested and made bas­kets for more than 10 years but re­grets not learn­ing sooner. She brought her grand­sons, age 6 and 7, in hopes of teach­ing them.

“They need to learn, be­cause I’m not go­ing to be able to (har­vest) much longer,” she said. “The big­gest part for me is know­ing where you’re from, what your tra­di­tions are and to in­cor­po­rate it into your life.”

Park ranger Winston Lyons saidPhoenix wel­comed the group and ap­pre­ci­ated the op­por­tu­nity to help them con­tinue to teach mem­bers about their an­ces­try.

He also said the part­ner­ship aims to give back to the com­mu­nity, repli­cate what was in the area a long time ago and to of­fer a place where peo­ple can learn about the river it­self.

“This part­ner­ship en­gulfs many things, and the many things are the op­por­tu­nity to share, to give and to re­ward out fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” Lyons said. “I have a grand­child on the way. My goal ever since I’ve been a part of Rio Sal­ado is that hope­fully my grand­daugh­ter can see the same things that I see to­day. By this part­ner­ship, I hope that hap­pens.”

Those who didn’t make it Satur­day but still want to har­vest wil­lows and cat­tails for bas­ketry can con­tact Lyons at 602-534-9857 to sched­ule a time.


Damien Davis, 7, walks through a wall of cat­tails to reach his grand­mother, Del­phia Graves, while she har­vests reeds on Satur­day.

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