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Shan Goshorn, Sealed Fate: Treaty of New Echota Protest Basket

Shan Goshorn, an Eastern Band Cherokee artist, innovatively used historical documents and images to create baskets, continuing the tradition of Cherokee basket weaving. Her baskets, featuring the Treaty of New Echota and Cherokee signatures protesting it, educate about the painful history of Cherokee removal. The double weave technique and symbolic designs add depth to her work. Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(gentle piano music) - [Narrator] We've just opened a lidded basket by the artist, Shan Goshorn. - [Presenter] Shan Goshorn was an artist and a Eastern Band Cherokee citizen. She found her hook as an artist in the creation of baskets but she didn't make baskets the way our peoples traditionally did with river cane or white oak. She would find these historical documents or images, photographs that are important to her work and her activism and use those as splints to create these baskets. And in doing this, she was both continuing the tradition of our basket weaving but also using this to bring people in. - [Narrator] She mentions how when she put these baskets on display in exhibitions, she noticed that people found them non-threatening because for some people they see baskets as purely utilitarian, as objects that don't have a rich complex meaning with different readings. But for many native people's baskets are texts, they weave stories into the baskets. And so, she describes how she was delighted to find that baskets were a way for broaching painful topics that she wanted people to learn more about. So, if we're looking at the base of the basket, we see archival materials that she's used in this very saturated black ink. But if we look on the inside of the basket we see different types of writing. It's in a different ink, and this is for two reasons. These are different texts that she has woven together. But this is also because it's a double weave basket. - [Presenter] A double weave basket is one of the styles of baskets that Cherokee people created. It's a very technically challenging thing to do. You essentially make your first basket inside, and then as you're weaving your way up you flip over and then you create the outside. And traditionally we would use river cane from back home. So, Shan is continuing this tradition using some of the exact same weaving patterns that our Cherokee people use. She's just using a different medium. And the outside of this basket is in English and it is the text from the Treaty of New Echota. And the inside is in our Cherokee syllabary and it's the signatures of over 13,000 Cherokee citizens who were protesting that treaty as a false treaty that ultimately led to our removal from our ancestral homelands. - [Narrator] Shan was using baskets like this as a way to educate people who might not know the history of what led to the removal of Cherokee peoples from their lands. - [Presenter] In 1835, several states were calling for our removal and Principal Chief John Ross was in talks with President Andrew Jackson and the Congress about how we could resolve this situation. And we'd been given a deal previously by Congress in a certain appraisal of our land, which of course was not appropriate or accurate. And instead of worrying we would lose everything, smaller faction of Cherokees wanted to take this deal. And so, there was a US Indian agent named Reverend Schermerhorn who came down to visit this group and they took it upon themselves to sign a treaty that would effectively seed our lands to the US government in exchange for lands west of the Mississippi. And the problem with that is they were not elected officials. They did not have the authority to sign a document. And other leaders put together a couple of different councils to protest and gather over 13,000 signatures from Cherokee citizens denouncing this act and saying, "This is not a legal document." And Congress ended up voting on it and we lost that by one vote. So, this false treaty, the Treaty of New Echota is what lost us our homelands. - [Narrator] And so, those signatures protesting against the Echota Treaty are the ones on the inside. And we see that Shan has woven this lovely design in light blue splints. And as your eye moves up to the edge of the basket, this is where we see the Echota Treaty beginning. If we look at the lid we see that there's another design motif on the top that's in a light orange. - [Presenter] We had 16,000 people walk the Trail of Tears. And during this removal, 4,000 people died. So, one in four Cherokees died. The pattern that we see on top of this basket is called "Man in a Coffin", which calls back that loss and trauma. Baskets have always been a way for women in our communities to have a voice and agency. We use baskets in the home for our daily needs. Baskets are used in ceremony. They give us a place in ceremonial life. They were revered objects that were very highly traded and being able to see this continued in a new form shows our resilience and ability to adapt to new situations, new times, new materials. (lively piano music)