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Native women and domestic arts in the Northwest, the subject of a Woodstock talk

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Pat Courtney Gold, an internationally recognized native Wasco artist, spoke at the Woodstock Branch Library about the strengths of Native American women. "Columbia River Native Women" was the title of a recent talk at the Woodstock Branch Library. Pat Courtney Gold, a native Wasco Tribe woman, told a gathering of fourteen people about the contributions of women to her culture.

Born and raised on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon, Gold is a fabric artist and basket weaver who exhibits her work in this country and around the world.

Gold began by recounting how, in 1855, her ancestors were forced off traditional lands onto reservations. But, long before that, the Wascos and Chinooks had prospered and thrived.

"The Columbia River was like I-84 for canoe travel, connecting the River People," explained Gold. "Downriver were Chinook people, and upriver were the Wasco. The advantages of living along the Columbia were the fish runs. Our people caught more salmon than they could eat, so they traded it. That was our wealth."

The international trade of the Wasco and Chinooks involved ships from Russia, Alaska, and the eastern United States.

"The women were excellent traders. They could talk better [than the men] with the white people – and they talked more!" she said with a smile.

Historically, the native nations were matriarchal; but what that actually means is not always clear to us today. Throughout her presentation, Gold explained the little-known strengths of the native women.

"Women were active in our tribal councils. They were good at compromise. They owned property, took part in politics, voted, and participated in trading. They were also good at gambling, because they had fun with it and were not so serious." Gambling, she explained, was a part of the native culture. Today, native women are lawyers, entrepreneurs, and keepers of the culture.

Gold's artistic and craft skills are drawn from thousands of years of women harvesting cedar bark, cattails, bear grass, and camas to make clothing, baskets and canoes.

"Wasco women got their canoes, and went downriver to trade with the basket weavers. And the trade centers were like 'malls'. In addition to trading, socializing, feasts, songs, dances, courting, and storytelling took place there."

One of Gold's happiest moments, she said in conclusion, was the day she learned of a 700 year-old basket handed down through generations which had been made of the same materials and with the same design as a basket she herself had made.

To learn more of what Gold told of in her Woodstock Library talk, and to see examples of her craft, go online: www.patcourtneygold.com

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