Closeup view of the traditional agave basket made with cotton cordage and Saguaro ribs.

Grant Helps Community Artist Teach an Old Tradition

By Tasha Silverhorn
Au-Authm Action News

On June 24, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community artist, historian and cultural presenter Royce Manuel was informed that he was one of five Native American artists throughout the United States chosen to receive a National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) grant under the Indigenous Contemporary Arts Program.

The mission of the Indigenous Contemporary Arts Program is to support the arts in a variety of expressive culture genres. It supports a wide range of arts activities and Native American artists with the goal of increasing the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of contemporary Native American arts.

The grant will give Manuel the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to study the art of making burden baskets, which the Akimel O’odham used long ago for gathering and carrying items. He will go to the NMAI and learn more about how our ancestors made the baskets, studying their techniques, the materials they used and the styles of the baskets.

When Manuel returns, he will present a workshop for Community members who are interested in learning how to make the burden basket. The workshop will be funded through the grant, and he also will be getting some help from cultural departments within the Community. In his workshop, Manuel will demonstrate the process of making a burden basket using original materials such as agave plant fibers and share related skills such as how to make the fibers out of the plant.

“The trip to Washington, D.C. will give me the opportunity to look at the old craft work and old burden baskets,” said Manuel, “and to do research and develop the education[al aspects] of my future workshop for the Community.

“I am thankful that Kelly Washington supported me when I applied for the grant,” continued Manuel. “He was really helpful and instrumental in helping me apply for this because he opened the door for me to do workshops out of the museum, and that really plays a big part in what I will be able to do.

“[Making burden baskets] is an old craft, and I am just trying to revitalize it,” said Manuel.

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