Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

Essay- When is a Basket Not a Basket? November 13, 2019


© Shawn Bird November 13, 2019

Often, when we work side by side with someone, our learning comes not from the task occupying our hands, but with the stories that come along side.

On Indigenous Learning Professional Development Day, the creation of a lovely small pine needle basket was the least of what I took away.

The elder teaching our class told of gathering the pine needles.  How she wept to discover a clear cut where her favourite trees had been.  She told of saying a prayer during the gathering in respect to earth, and how when we were finished with our baskets, the needles left behind should not go to the garbage, as that impacts our own healing, but that they should be given back to earth, with thanks.

Quietly, at our table, she told our group that what one saw as a mistake, was not.  The elder who’d taught her when she was seventeen had explained they were  meant to be there.  I found a connection in that statement, “Oh!” I said, “Like I tell my English students: it’s about the process. There are going to be mistakes, and that’s good, because it’s part of the learning.”

Her eyes down on her basket flashed.  “English!” she exclaimed.  “I tried and I tried and I tried. But everything was always wrong, wrong, wrong.  Finally, I told them what they could do with their English!”

Then she glanced up, alarmed, concerned to have caused offense.  “Oh. But not like that!”

“I understand,” I said.  “Your stories are in your baskets. Not in English.”

She stitched her basket, silently.

And I saw.

I saw a school system that scarred her papers and her soul.  I saw a sense of never measuring up.  I saw frustration growing until giving up was the best decision to preserve self.

I saw how profound it was that she was in our building teaching us her talent and skill, sharing her art, her values, and her stories with us.

I saw that there are many others in my classroom who share her experience.

I am humbled and very grateful for her teaching.

A small pine needle basket on my shelf is full of new, poignant understandings.


Here is the Word Document version for easy printing.





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4 Responses to “Essay- When is a Basket Not a Basket?”

  1. Shawn, thank you for sharing. This reflects in a positive way towards the significance of Native culture. Being originally from Montana, I understand this quite well.

  2. Jim Stewart Says:

    We all need to understand this every day. Every. Day.

  3. Vuava Says:

    I worked with a woman who was worried about her son, who was doing badly at school. He wasn’t lazy – he genuinely struggled academically. She told me he felt stupid, and she was sad for him was he was so gifted with his hands. He liked cars and was very mechanically minded. She wished the school could see his value. There are different types of intelligence, different types of wisdom. I think we like to put everything into boxes, including people. If they don’t fit our preconceptions, then they are lacking. I wonder how many people are found wanting by these limited values, and write themselves off because of it.

  4. […] via Essay- When is a Basket Not a Basket? — Shawn L. Bird […]

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