An Eye on the Future

Laverne Glaze, the elder basket weaver and Karuk activist, shows off a regalia skirt still a work in progress. She reflected, “My life is getting pretty damn short I still need to teach some of these young girls how to sew dresses.”/Photo by Malcolm Terence

Laverne Glaze, the elder basket weaver and Karuk activist, shows off a regalia skirt still a work in progress. She reflected, “My life is getting pretty damn short I still need to teach some of these young girls how to sew dresses.”/Photo by Malcolm Terence

By MALCOLM TERENCE, TRT Contributing Writer

Laverne Glaze, the basketweaver, likes to remember the time almost 40 years ago when she was sitting on a very large boulder not far from where Pearch Creek spills into the Klamath River.

She was among a handful of activists pushing for federal recognition for the Karuk Tribe and one of them, Jack Sanderson, predicted, “One day we’ll have a building there.”

He pointed at the hollow where the Karuk Department of Natural Resources building now stands. With a candor not uncommon among Karuk elders, Glaze says, “We were talking through our butts, really, but now it’s there.”

The Karuks eventually succeeded in their campaign for recognition by the feds and early in November of this year Glaze’s daughter Renee Stauffer was elected by a landslide to the Karuk tribal council representing the Orleans District.

Glaze, who spent decades as a promoter and organizer of basketweaving, is now 82 years old and hobbled by arthritis and even occasional difficulty breathing, but she is still working hard with an eye on the future.

She remembers in the early 1950s working as a veneer grader when there was a saw mill producing plywood layers in Orleans. Then she transferred to the Georgia Pacific mill in Samoa on the coast, a job she held for at least a dozen years.

Finally she and her family returned to take over Sandy Bar Ranch, a small fishing resort in Orleans, across the Klamath River from the boulder where the DNR Building was eventually built.

Then, Glaze shifted the narrative to a census of sorts where she began explaining who was her relative and how. For a long time she enumerated and named her legions of cousins, nieces, nephews, grand kids and more, another common pastime of elders everywhere.

Finally, she shifted back to making baskets. One of her early teachers was Ella Johnson, a renowned weaver from Weitchpec who is now gone. Glaze said Johnson was a good teacher and very strict. One of Johnson’s standards for the new weavers was to take their baskets, the ones used for acorn soup, down to the river to see if they leaked.

Glaze gave her first successful basket to her mother. She remembers that her grandmother, who was blind, felt it for bumps.

Weaving is only one part of basketmaking and maybe not even the biggest part. Young wannabe weavers are sent out at all times of year to collect and then prepare all the materials that the veteran and the apprentice weavers will need.

The universe of basketweavers is a stream of natural materials. Oregon grape makes porcupine quills yellow. Sticks are collected in the spring on river bars. Certain mosses and bark make other dyes.

One gatherer brought her woodwardia ferns a few days earlier and then crushed them with a rolling pin to extract the two fibers in the stem. Next they will be dried and then dyed a reddish color with alder bark.

“It’s a lot of work, all that collecting. I’m so proud of the young girls learning to make baskets,” she said. “They didn’t know what they were getting into.”

In earlier times, regular tribal burning kept a steady stream of all the plant materials. The old assumption that the land was pristine or untouched when White people came has been challenged in recent years, even by White writers. It overlooks the reality of management of the so-called wild areas by the Indians who lived there before white people came.

Besides burning, vegetation was pruned and severely sheared to encourage the growth of the materials weavers needed, such as straight branches of uniform diameter, according to writers like Tom Leskiw, a veteran biological technician with the Six Rivers National Forest.

He writes, “Over the past two decades those who study Native American cultures have embraced the idea of a more actively managed original landscape.”

Glaze used these ideas to build cooperation with the US Forest Service, which managed much of the land in the area. She helped organize a series of camps called Following the Smoke, where large numbers of weavers and aspiring weavers, from all over the country would camp out and share stories and techniques.

The organizing also provided a platform to leverage burning in important collecting areas and to lobby against post-logging herbicide use. Some political campaigns for forest policy are fought with public pressure or litigation. Others can be managed by partnering with the powerful agencies, in this case the U.S. Forest Service. Glaze has had great success with the latter.

She said the support has continued to grow. “Nolan’s wife is a weaver and also Merv’s,” she said with a grin, referring to Nolan Colegrove, district ranger for the Ukonom, Orleans and Lower Trinity Districts, and to Merv George, Jr., the new Forest Supervisor of the Six Rivers National Forest.

She also paid tribute to Tyrone Kelly, the previous Six Rivers supervisor, for his support burning in areas where basket materials could be collected, especially bear grass, and to Ben Riggan, a property owner down river from Orleans, who had used burning on his own land to make collecting more available to weavers. Another of her allies has been Frank Lake, a research ecologist with the Forest Service based in Orleans.

Glaze said the first Following the Smoke camp was at LePerron Flat above Orleans and it rained heavily but no one wanted to leave. “We just huddled around the camp fires and told stories,” she said.

Glaze’s daughter, Renee Stauffer, had just retired from 24 years with the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s forestry department shortly before she was elected to the Karuk Council a few weeks ago.

Stauffer remembers her own introduction to activism, discounting her short casual visits to the Native American occupation of Alcatraz.

A few years later she felt offended by the commercialization of mushrooms and by a rush of outside brokers setting up stands everywhere in the local communities. She joined talks that included Leaf Hillman, now director of the Karuk DNR, and George Harper, then district ranger in Happy Camp. Compromises were reached and one of them was that tribal membership cards could replace the purchase of commercial picker permits.

She said her mother was part of a generation who worked to revitalize the tribe. She named Amos Tripp, who Stauffer will succeed on tribal council, David Tripp and Shan Davis as examples.

“There’s been an evolution. At first the people in the agency offices came with smiles on their faces but it was all just talk (about sovereignty). But now we have people like Nolan and Merv. If only we could get the people in the different tribes together.”

Glaze seems ready to hand those responsibilities to her daughter. She got help pulling two suitcases into the living room and unveiled two sets of part-finished buckskin apron-style skirts, regalia for ceremonies.

She showed off the meticulous stitching and the abalone shells rattled expectantly as she handled them.

“My life is getting pretty damn short,” she explained. “I still need to teach some of these young girls how to sew dresses.”

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