Project: Prince William Sound Spruce Root Revival Project
Grantee: Native Village of Eyak
Written by: Brooke Johnson
We are from Cordova and belong to the Native Village of Eyak. Historically, we used to weave with spruce roots, but throughout the years, that skill has become lost in our area. Our project proposed to bring spruce root weaver, Jennie Wheeler up from Yakutat to instruct a group of us on how to weave, and how and where to gather spruce roots.
In February 2018, Jennie came up, loaded with roots for our class to use to learn first how to make spruce root ornaments (the starts of baskets), and then how to weave baskets with basic color designs. Our group met for 4-6 hours for the 6 days she spent with us on the rainy/snowy/slushy days. Many of our group was hooked and was excited for the weather to warm up and allow us to work on gathering roots. Years ago, there had been a couple spruce root gathering classes, but the only location they found to gather, was a boat ride or plane ride away, and we desired to find something on our road system that would work for our needs.
In the end of April, the weather was still cold and rainy, and Jennie came up to visit again for a long weekend. We spent 3 days gathering spruce roots in the rain, looking for places that didn’t have frozen ground or a mix of hemlock and alder trees with our spruce, and we successfully found a few locations we could use. All of us bundled up in our rain gear, put our heads down and diligently dug the number of roots we thought we could fully process that evening. We were lucky on 2 of the days, and the weather cleared up when we built our fire to burn, de-bark and split our roots. The 3rd day we were not so lucky. That was also supposed to be the day we went out to Boswell Bay, our historic gathering place, but due to the poor weather conditions we had to stay in town instead.
This change created a need to make some budget changes for our project, and a small group of students decided they wanted to make a trip down to Yakutat in the end of May to gather with Jennie on her own turf. It was a beautiful time, well worth the additional money we needed to spend to make it happen. During this same time, one of our group was also granted the opportunity to apprentice with Jennie, something that may never have come to pass without The CIRI Foundation. Our community cannot thank The CIRI Foundation enough for the opportunity they have given us. Quwanakcuk!