Photo: Kirstin Roper, © NHMU


Diné (Navajo) weavers use just one plant to create their baskets—sumac (Rhus tribolata). Gathering sumac branches is hard work and often family members come along to help. Sumac used to be abundant in Dinétah (the Diné homeland), but habitat loss has made it harder to find in recent years. “There’s a lot of traveling with gathering materials,” weaver Alicia Nelson explains. “It’s like a three, four, five-hour drive from where we live. I can’t be specific about where we go, but along rivers, streams, washes, canyons.” Many weavers prefer to collect sumac in the fall. As Alicia notes, “The spring and summer are not good to gather materials because they’re very fragile; they’re watery and barely growing again. When you weave with it, they just break.” To ensure the long-term health of the plants they will transform into works of art, weavers collect sumac judiciously and offer prayers of gratitude.


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