Members of the Houma Indian Nation are determined to preserve their style of baskets that are woven from strands of palmetto leaves. But one of the tribe’s unique styles of weaving was almost lost and forgotten.
a tribe clings to its past
Decades of hurricanes and land loss have broken apart what was once a close-knit community of Houma Indians along Bayou Dulac in southern Terrebonne Parish. But several determined basket weavers are trying to preserve part of their culture. Janie Luster, a basket weaver, teaches workshops and hopes that tribal members who move away will take that part of their culture with them.
Luster and her sister-in-law, Zoeanna Verret, weave traditional Houma baskets out of palmetto leaves. Verret says she learned from her older relatives, “I would watch my aunt and my dad,” Verret explains, “and that’s how I learned.” Verret uses what she calls a jigsaw weave. She twists small strips of dried palmetto leaves into a zig-zag pattern and turns it into a basket.
Zoeanna Verret and Janie Luster sit at a table on the back porch of a house that overlooks Bayou Dulac. The house stands on tall pilings due to the constant threat of hurricanes and flooding.
a style of basket weaving rediscovered
Luster is using a different weave, one she calls the “Houma half hitch”. It is a type of hitch that was part of the Houma culture, but disappeared in the 1940’s. A basket, made with the unique hitch, was discovered in a museum in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Luster studied the old weave and learned to copy it, and now uses it in her palmetto baskets. “It’s part of our identity,” Luster says. She adds, “We want to continue it. We don’t want to lose it again,”
houma indian baskets featured on tv
Palmetto baskets part of houma indian culture
Luster is the sister of Kirby Verret, a former tribal chairman and long-time member of the United Houma Nation Tribal Council. The tribe is still struggling to get federal recognition. “Nobody should ever give up the artwork and talent of their ancestors,” Verret says. He’s encouraged that his sister and wife Zoeanna are willing to learn about their tribal culture, “and share and pass it on to other people.” And with each strip of palmetto and every knot, a unique culture is slowly woven into a new basket.
The basket weaving is a slow process. Luster says it took her six months to make a large basket that the family has used to cradle small children. And she feels the basket making gives her a connection to her ancestors. “You feel it,” Luster says, adding, “the basket itself has a spirit about it.”
Both Janie Luster and Zoeanna Verret will be participating in the 7th Annual Intertribal Basketry Summit on Saturday, October 28, 2023, in Marksville, LA. Click here for more information. In addition, Luster can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org