Across from the Elderberry Tree
Acjachemen (Juaneño) tribal member, Ellen Sue Olivares Schneider, discusses traditional basket weaving materials and processes and the importance of elderberry and oak trees in Acjachemen culture., Recorded in San Juan Capistrano, California; January 26, 2017
My name is Ellen Sue Olivares Schneider. My aunt is tribal elder Teeter Marie Romero Olivares and my father was her brother, Allen Olivares. We are descendants of the Acjachemen Nation, Juaneño Band of Mission Indians. We can trace our village back 200 years to the village of Aluna [?], towards Trabuco. So, a lot of the native villages - there were over 400 in this area, from what I understand - were pushed back to various areas. Our border lines are from Oceanside to Long Beach, so there's a lot of different tribes within that area. We're connected to the Diegue±o, Luise±o - most closely connected to. I grew up here. Most of my life, I lived down across from the Basilica which is present day Basilica, San Juan Basilica, at one of the baton board houses down there. I was born in 1953. The house that I partially own now on Los Rios Street, which is one of the oldest residential streets in California, our family still owns that house. It was originally sat cattycorner from the Basilica and was moved in the '20s to present day Los Rios Street. And it is a historical house on the registry of historical houses. I learned basket weaving, probably about 15 years ago and began with pine needle baskets and raffia, which I learned from my aunt. In the last few years, I have learned basket weaving, the traditional coiled methods through Rose Ann Hamilton, Vaquila [?] Indians and Abe Sanchez. So, the traditional baskets that I weave are usually made from the natural materials native to this area. Most commonly are deer grass, which is the actual bundle and then the wrap is made from juncus or sumac. The beginnings usually start with yucca, or horse hair. Gathering is difficult because of development of course, so we do have to go to particular places to get them and pesticides is always a concern. I do go gather in the ["Quoia"?] reservation at different times in the year. I've been doing that for the last, I guess, five years or so. It's a very tedious process. I go gather at certain times, the juncus, which I most commonly use. It's usually easier to work with than the sumac. Sumac's a hardier material. They use it a lot in this area because it was stronger, would last longer. The Juane±o baskets were mainly utilitarian baskets. They weren't very ornate. A lot of their designs were geometrical rather than told stories or such like a lot of that you'd see in the ["Quoia"?] area or Palm Springs. It's very tedious, like I said, the juncus has to be pulled at different times of year. It has to be dried for up to a year. It has to be cut and split. The pith has to be taken out of it. It has to be sized. It's very tedious. The deer grass as well. It has to be cleaned. It's quite a process. So, I do a little bit of that. Teeter and I and another person are still basket weaving at the Mission San Juan Capistrano the first and third Wednesdays of the month where we educate the fourth graders that come through. Some days we have about 400 children who are very excited to learn about the Acjachemen since our ancestors were the ones that helped build the mission. And we sit right across from the big elderberry tree and the big oak tree. Of course, the elderberry tree is very important to the Native Americans. It was used for medicinal purposes, the flowers of the tree. We use the branches for musical instruments, for rattles, for flute making, for clapper sticks which the women used to sing with. The leaves are used to color the juncus for our baskets. We combine some of those with the cottonwood leaves. So it's a really important tree. And of course, the oak tree, with acorns, was a staple food for the Native Americans and that sits across from us too. So, we're excited to be there and it's a privilege to be there and I go there to pray and the Mission is very important to me. It was growing up and it still is.
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