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Rose and Francis Cree

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Rose and Francis Cree were highly respected Ojibwe elders in Dunseith, North Dakota, near the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, where both were born. Rose passed her art along to her children and to others as well. Rose is holding a basket she made while Francis is holding his pipe. Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Francis Cree makes a man's pipe out of red Catlinite stone. Men's pipes are L-shaped, while women's pipes are T-shaped. The stone (bowl) is carved in an eagle shape and the bowl part for the tobacco is carved in the shape of a heart, again, referencing Francis' Chippewa name, Eagle Heart. Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota. courtesy of the North Dakota Council on the Arts
Francis Cree makes a man's pipe out of red Catlinite stone. Men's pipes are L-shaped while women's pipes are T-shaped. The stone (bowl) is carved in an eagle shape and the bowl part for the tobacco is carved in the shape of a heart, again, referencing Francis' Chippewa name, Eagle Heart. Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota. Courtesy of the North Dakota Council on the Arts
Francis Cree makes a man's pipe out of red Catlinite stone. Men's pipes are L-shaped while women's pipes are T-shaped. The stone (bowl) is carved in an eagle shape and the bowl part for the tobacco is carved in the shape of a heart, again, referencing Francis' Chippewa name, Eagle Heart. Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota. Courtesy of the North Dakota Council on the Arts
Baby carrier by Rose Cree, photograph by Chris Martin, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Rose and Francis Cree gathering willows, photograph by Chris Martin, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Rose Cree with a variety of willow basket shapes in her home, photograph by Chris Martin, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Indian pipes by Francis Cree, photograph by Chris Martin, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Rose Cree, photograph by Chris Martin, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Willow basket by Rose Cree, photograph by Chris Martin, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Francis and Rose Cree with their daughter Brenda Cree, Arlington, Virginia, 2002, photograph by Alan Govenar
Francis Cree splits ash and shapes it to form the frame around which willow is woven. Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Francis Cree splits ash and shapes it to form the frame around which willow is woven. Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Rose Cree weaves willow to form a basket. By this time, in June 2002, Rose was legally blind, yet she still wove baskets, mostly by touch. Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Rose Cree with a large willow laundry or burden basket, Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Francis Cree in a studio recording songs and traditional stories for the NDCA-produced enhanced CD 'The Elders Speak.' The drum is painted with a rose for his wife, an eagle for his heart (Francis' Chippewa name is Eagle Heart), and a turtle above a geometric design representing the Turtle Mountains of north central North Dakota from which he came. The Turtle Mountains are said to have originated upon the back of a great turtle after a huge flood, and traditionalists refer to the area as 'Turtle Island' in reference to the flood story. Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Francis Cree makes a man's pipe out of red Catlinite stone. Men's pipes are L-shaped, while women's pipes are T-shaped. The stone (bowl) is carved in an eagle shape, and the bowl part for the tobacco is carved in the shape of a heart, again, referencing Francis' Chippewa name, Eagle Heart. Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesaay North Dakota Council on the Arts
Francis Cree makes a man's pipe out of red Catlinite stone. Men's pipes are L-shaped, while women's pipes are T-shaped. The stone (bowl) is carved in an eagle shape, and the bowl part for the tobacco is carved in the shape of a heart, again, referencing Francis' Chippewa name, Eagle Heart. Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Man's pipe by Francis Cree, made out of red Catlinite stone. Men's pipes are L-shaped while women's pipes are T-shaped. The stone (bowl) is carved in an eagle shape, and the bowl part for the tobacco is carved in the shape of a heart, again, referencing Francis' Chippewa name, Eagle Heart. Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Basket by Rose Cree, Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Rose made numerous styles, shapes and sizes of baskets.  Some are for carrying babies and laundry; others are burden baskets for fruit and vegetables, some with lids, some without. Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesy  North Dakota Council on the Arts
Basket (detail) by Rose Cree, Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Baskets made to resemble ducks by Rose Cree, Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Willow baby carrier made by Rose Cree, Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, courtesy North Dakota Council on the Arts
Rose and Francis Cree, Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, North Dakota, photograph by Troyd Geist, courtesy of North Dakota Council on the Arts

Rose and Francis Cree were highly respected Ojibwe elders in Dunseith, North Dakota, near the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, where both were born. Both were storytellers. Francis were a spiritual leader, pipe carver and keeper of the ceremonial drum for their community. He also worked with his wife making baskets.

Francis made the frames from ash cut in nearby woods. He joined the ash ribs — always an odd number — with string or wire and let the frame dry overnight, then tightened it again. Rose wove the basket from willows that she kept in the freezer so they would stay moist.

“We use brown, red and white in our designs,” Rose told NEA interviewer Mary K. Lee. “The brown willow comes in three colors. Some are buckskin color; some are darker brown. I think they just go according to the weather. In the spring, they're a little lighter, then later on they turn a little brown. You get three colors out of them. Then we get the natural red willow; that's all the same color all the time. We use two kinds of willow, the red willow and the brown willow. To make the white design, we scrape the bark off of the willow. … I learned it all from my mother, the designs and all that. There’s only one design that I make, a diamond design. My grandkids are learning that design, too. They put their design out like mine.”

Rose created a variety of shapes, though she made a disproportionate number of smaller baskets, because they were so popular. She called these the hardest to make, because the ribs are close together.

“We made the clothes baskets and cradle baskets — a basket with a hood — wall baskets, round baskets, oval baskets, duck baskets and turtle baskets,” she told Lee. “Rabbit baskets. We came up with a lot of different designs. We kind of created these, the duck, the rabbit and the turtle baskets. The turtle baskets were always the leading thing in our tribe. It’s spiritual. For the Indian people, that's a great spiritual thing.”

Rose passed her art along to her children and grandchildren and to others as well. “I teach in schools and colleges and other places,” she said. “I go different places to teach, but they say it’s too hard for them to do. They don’t have a strong enough interest to keep at it. It’s boring, they say. There’s only a few that are really interested in learning. Others say it’s too hard. But it isn’t, you know, once you catch on. It’s just like when you're weaving potholders and stuff; it’s just the same as that. You go in and out, in and out; you’re weaving. It's not really hard after you catch on.”

Bibliography
Yellow Bird, Dorreen. “Remembering a Life: Leaving her Cultural Legacy; Nationally Known Basket Maker Rose Cree Dies.” Grand Forks Herald (January 2004).
“North Dakota Artists Receive National Heritage Fellowship.” North Dakota Council on the Arts (September 2002).
Martin, Christopher. Prairie Patterns: Folk Art in North Dakota. North Dakota: Richtman’s Printing (1

Watch

Rose and Francis Cree interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2002 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Rose Cree on the Prairie Public Television show 'Native View' hosted by Pam Belgrade that aired on October 21, 1993, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Francis Cree on the Prairie Public Television show 'Native View' hosted by Pam Belgrade that aired on October 21, 1993, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Francis Cree sings a Cree Round Dance song, Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar

Francis Cree sings a Round Dance song, Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar

Francis Cree answers the question 'Could you talk a little about your childhood?' Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar

Francis Cree sings a song by Standing Chief, Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar

Francis Cree tells a children's story of the rabbit and his ears, Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar

Rose Cree answers the question 'What was your childhood like?' Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar

Francis Cree answers the question 'How long have the Chippewa been in North Dakota?' Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar

Francis Cree tells a children's story about a family crossing a lake, Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, Interview by Alan Govenar

Francis Cree tells the story of the buffalo, Alexandria, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar

Mary Louise Defender Wilson & Francis Cree, 'Holy Spring,' The Elders Speak, 1999, Makoché Music

Mary Louise Defender Wilson & Francis Cree, 'Sky Woman and the Great Flood,' The Elders Speak, 1999, Makoché Music