When we evacuate, if there is time, I grab an irreplaceable family heirloom: a small doll with a crude button face, a dress made of tartan rags wrapped about a body formed by the wishbone of a hen. A small card tied about her neck bears a handwritten poem. In the tiny box with the tiny doll is a note written on onionskin paper.
My great-grandmother’s handwriting details the doll’s origins, tracing our family lines. When my parents passed away, their friends and family graciously sent me mementos that they thought I should have to remember my parents: photographs, stories, jewelry, tools — items that had an emotional and physical connection to my parents.
Woven baskets from this region have a similar meaning. Family origins and storylines are woven into the pattern with different colors, different plant materials. To make these artful and utilitarian baskets is no small feat. The process of gathering traditional materials of cedar root and wild cherry bark is increasingly restricted by property owners.
Construction and agricultural activities damage traditional areas where materials were once gathered. Between cultural changes that made weaving no longer a necessity, and landscape changes that limit weaving resources, the art and practice of Native American weaving is in danger of becoming a lost art. These family heirlooms are cultural artifacts, precious evidence of utilitarian practices and art of the first people who lived in their traditional homeland, the Methow Valley.
Labor Day fires burned more than just homes on the Colville Reservation. The fires moved so quickly that families had no time to save their own family heirlooms, cultural artifacts passed down through generations of the Methow people. The loss of home and hearth has a significant impact on elders’ health, livelihood, and capacity to pass on their language, traditions, and skills. For many years, these community members and Methow descendants have graciously and generously shared their stories with the Methow Valley Interpretive Center — helping to build educational bridges. They have given us a rich experience and education about this place and the people who came before us. Now, we must give back and support these elders.
Monetary donations can be made to the Methow Valley Interpretive Center earmarked as “Fire Relief.” All fire relief donations go directly to families in need. Information on how to donate can be found at www.methowvalleyinterpretivecenter.com. Please also consider cultural items that may be someone else’s family heirloom, and how much that would mean to the recipient.
A reminder: Peak bird migration is August-October. The National Audubon Society encourages people to help birds and reduce nighttime light pollution by turning out all unnecessary lights from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. The Methow Dark Sky Coalition urges people to protect our night sky with environmentally responsible lighting by following International Dark-Sky Association guidelines for outdoor lighting. Be a good neighbor by protecting our dark skies. For information, see http://www.methowdarksky.org.