Life skills go beyond dance in Stewart spring festival |

Life skills go beyond dance in Stewart spring festival

Rex Bovee

At any moment during the Stewart Spring Awakening festival Saturday, most eyes were probably on the feathered dancers in the center of the Stewart Complex gymnasium.

But many in the crowd devoted some of the day to watching Groves Verbeck flake a glossy hunk of brown obsidian into a hunting point; Veltha Dunnett wind her soaked willow strips into a tiny mat or Brenda Frank transform pine needles into a basket.

The Stewart Indian School Museum sponsored the festival that drew hundreds to the former school’s grounds at Carson City’s southeast corner.

As Verbeck, a Cherokee/Pomo flintnapper (as those who make arrowheads are called) from Truckee knocked curved flakes from the obsidian, the shiny volcanic glass accumulated around his feet. Children asked for souvenir pieces and Verbeck selected the thick ones.

“These are very sharp, you see,” he said, displaying a fresh cut on his own hand that still leaked. “So I am going to take the edge off for you.” Verbeck carefully dulled the edges of each piece with a stone before handing out souvenirs.

Dozens of arrow and spear points he had made were on display, along with a few obsidian knives. Letting the light shine through them showed variegations of smoky browns, deep grays, greens and yellows.

One long knife was crystal clear.

“I made that from plate glass. It’s the same chemical composition as obsidian – pure silica,” he explained.

On the dance floor, the men had fastened on elaborate feathered bustles and were dancing to the drummers. On the sideline, Dunnett was limbering up some of the willow she had stripped and soaked in water to demonstrate basket making.

“I teach basket classes to the young folks at Schurz on the Walker River, where I’m from, and also at the museum here,” she said.

She showed off on open-work basket used to strain the juice from crushed bugberries, explaining that it is similar to, but smaller than, baskets used to sift pine nuts from pine cone pieces.

Outside the gym, the longest line was for Indian tacos, as usual, and crafts and trinkets were for sale inside and out.

But the drum songs and Gordon Frazier’s eagle dance, the tule duck decoys made by Fallon’s Joey Allen, the culture that gave birth to cedar bark clothing and horsehair headdresses – no prices were set for these.