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100-year-old basket returns home to the Modoc Nation

Chief of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, Craig Harper, shakes hands with Chief of the Modoc Nation, Robert Burkybile, as a 100-year-old basket is returned to the Modoc Nation.
Craven Media
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Modoc Nation
Chief of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, Craig Harper, shakes hands with Chief of the Modoc Nation, Robert Burkybile, as a 100-year-old basket is returned to the Modoc Nation.

The Modoc Nation celebrated gembli — meaning coming home in Modoc — after leaders from the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma returned a culturally significant basket.

At the Modoc Nation in northeast Oklahoma, Syd Colombe works to preserve her tribe’s history and culture, spanning more than 14,000 years. She is a member of the Modoc Nation and a descendant of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

She said part of her job is to seek out lost artifacts — most of which the Modoc Nation has had to pay for.

“What we've been doing is we go to auctions, online, virtual eBay,” Colombe said. “And the Elected Council has been generous and provided us a budget. And so we're able to buy those cultural items.”

She said she has complicated feelings about the process.

A basket-weaving class was held for Modoc citizens.
Modoc Nation
A basket-weaving class was held for Modoc citizens last February.

“I think it's sad,” Colombe said. “But then I also feel empowered that we can do it, and that we have the foresight that we're not letting it slip out of our grasp. … We’re alert and we're watching, and if that's what it takes, unfortunately, that's where we're at. ”

Late last month, the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma and the Modoc Nation came together for that gembli. During the meeting, Peoria leaders returned a Modoc basket, estimated to be from 1874 to the early 1900s, back to the tribe.

In return, Modoc leaders also offered a newly woven basket.

“And so it was a really unique return,” she said. “We were able to get our basket back and then provide them a gift, a modern basket from the Modoc people.”

Colombe explained the basket the Modoc Nation gifted was created during a recent basket-weaving class the tribe hosted. She said a group of citizens in the class were the first people to do this type of weaving in a while — Colombe guessed more than 100 years.

The basket is now on display at the tribe’s Gathering Place in Wyandotte. It sits alongside baskets made during the recent basket-weaving class and pictures of the exchange between Chief of the Modoc Nation, Robert Burkybile, and Chief of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, Craig Harper.

Colombe said it shows the progress of her tribe.

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Sarah Liese reports on Indigenous Affairs for KOSU.
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