Michigan Heritage Awards
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Don "Red Arrow" Stevens
Photo by Al Kamuda
1988 awardee, Blanchard (Isabella County), Ojibwa cultural traditions bearer
Don "Red Arrow" Stevens (b.1933) is well known throughout the state for his expertise in black ash basketmaking and his skills in traditional Ojibwa dance, storytelling, and song. Many members of his family have made their living making and selling traditional Ojibwa crafts. Red Arrow learned to make black ash splint baskets from his father and his grandmother and has been making baskets ever since he was a young boy. Among his specialties are children's toys fashioned out of small piece of black ash splint; one form he frequently makes is that of a horse.
While he is adept at making many different functional and decorative forms of baskets, Red Arrow is best known for making a basket that looks like a strawberry that Red Arrow and other elders call by its Indian name, the heart berry.
Sometimes he sells these, but this basket is more important to him for ceremonial use. "When our young girls used to become the age we considered as adult and responsible for their actions, our village used to give them to the girls. When the girls received this it was a great honor," he says. (1)
The heart berry basket was also used in naming ceremonies when
"the medicine man or lady or the grandparents and parents gave
names to the young ones" and a two-inch high basket, called
a grave basket, is placed in the grave of the deceased so "they
would have the heart berry in the new life. The red color reminds
us that the Creator shed his blood for us." (2) Though
he says that some of the members of the community no longer
use the strawberry basket for all of its traditional uses, Red
Arrow makes sure members know how to make the baskets and use
them in ceremonies.
Red Arrow is very dedicated to sharing his traditional skills and knowledge with others in order to increase general understanding of Indian life and also, more importantly, to make sure the skill is perpetuated so that baskets will be available for ceremonies in the future.
(1) Stevens, Don. Audio recorded interview with Lynne Swanson, East Lansing, Michigan. 13 March 1991.
(2) Stevens, Don. Audio recorded interview with Lynne Swanson, East Lansing, Michigan. 13 March 1991.
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