Tribal member demonstrates black ash preparation for basket making

By Tim Wohlers

Ho-Chunk tribal member William Hall was featured at an event in Black River Falls late last month as part of an Earth Day celebration. Hall demonstrated how to pound black ash logs for Ho-Chunk basket making. “Once you learn how,” Hall said, “it’s enjoyable.” Hall learned the skill from his father Sidney Hall. Hall’s mother and sister are renowned Ho-Chunk basket makers. The pounding process has helped native basket makers procure the wood splints needed for their craft by loosening layers of wood within a log prior to it being stripped. “It took practice,” said Hall. “There was a lot of mastery skill you had to use.” Ho-Chunk baskets were sold at road side stands to generate income. Families would prepare black ash and make baskets throughout the winter months and sell in the summer months. The event was organized by the Ho-Chunk Nation Division of Natural Resources Forester Mark Gawron as a way to generate interest in the pounding process. “The event was held to create awareness of the process of pound and making baskets. There is a shortage of pounders working to supply basket makers,” Gawron said. “At first they were making them just for household use,” Hall said, “until other people wanted some too. And that’s how it got started.” Fast forward a few hundred years and splint basketry has been directly associated with Native American culture. When exactly that association was made, however, Hall could only guess. “Nobody knows,” Hall said. “Otherwise, it would be written in the Ho-Chunk history.” Hall said he hopes that the tradition will continue to be taught to his people, regardless. Such should be the priority of Ho-Chunk’s preservation department, he contends. “It would be good if Heritage Preservation would put a little more emphasis on our culture and traditions,” Hall said. “That’s something that would be beneficial to tribal members.” Some at the event even expressed interest in attending another demonstration held by Hall.