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Mendhi hands by Pushpa Jain. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.Fish decoy. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Embroidered dress detail. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Cedar bird by Glen VanAntwerp. Photo by Al Kamuda. All rights reserved.
Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo by Al Kamuda

Photo by Al Kamuda

Harriet Shedawin
1986-1987 awardee, Sault Ste. Marie (Chippewa County), black ash basketmaker

Harriet Shedawin, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, was born in 1917 on Sugar Island, just east of Sault Ste. Marie. She learned basketmaking at an early age from her mother, grandmother, and other elders in her community; it was a necessary skill to make baskets for their own use and to earn money for essentials. "I clothed myself by making [and selling] baskets. We had to do this; it was our survival," she says.

Harriet recalls traveling off-island with her family, "We used to come to town and peddle the baskets door-to-door, trade them for food, because we were so poor. I enjoyed selling them for 5 cents." (1) Throughout her life, until her death in 1989, Harriet continued to make and sell baskets. She also shared her skills with others within her community and the general public. She believed that basketmaking "taught me patience, tolerance, strength, and value in myself." Her husband, Charlie, joined her in gathering and preparing the materials, making the baskets, and selling them at pow wows and local events. She came to realize that basket making is more than a source of income, but also a valued skill. "We don't do it for money, people who do it for money lose the value," she says. (2)

Harriet's nomination for the Michigan Heritage Award was supported by letters from individuals representing a wide sector of Upper Peninsula organizations, from the Indian Health Service in Kincholoe to the Catholic Diocese of Marquette to the Lac Veiux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. As one person expressed, "Her deep respect for nature and those around her is apparent to all who know her. She teaches these crafts together with traditional values to younger tribal members, as she was taught by her mother and grandmother before her." (3) Those letters testified to the excellence of her work, her dedication to her craft, and her commitment to teach basketmaking and other aspects of her Ojibwa culture to others.

Harriet's work has been on display at the Jesse Besser Museum and the MSU Museum, and her baskets are prized in countless private collections.

(1) Shedawin, Harriet. In Alan R. Kamuda Hands Across Michigan: Tradition Bearers. Detroit, Michigan: Detroit Free Press. 1993:11.
(2) Shedawin, Harriet. In Alan R. Kamuda Hands Across Michigan: Tradition Bearers. Detroit, Michigan: Detroit Free Press. 1993:11.
(3) Lumsden, Joseph. Letter of nomination to panelists. 5 June 1986.

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