Daniel H. Usner gave a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Thursday, April 4, at 12:15 pm. His talk was entitled “From Bayou Teche to Fifth Avenue: How Cane Baskets and Pepper Sauce Saved an American Indian Nation.”

This talk will explain how American Indian women in a south Louisiana community purposefully channeled aesthetic and anthropological interest in their material culture into a pursuit of political protection and federal recognition during a time of extreme crisis. From the 1880s through the 1930s, Chitimacha Indians confronted a barrage of racial violence, environmental hazards, and economic hardship. Personal relations forged with non-Indian women, especially two members of the McIlhenny Tabasco sauce family, were instrumental in circulating Chitimacha baskets across the country and in mobilizing the arts-and-crafts network for the survival of this Indian nation. By tracing the movement of particular sets of baskets through a network of weavers, patrons, merchants, anthropologists, and collectors, the widespread influence that Indigenous women and their allies had on government policy, social science, and the art and design world will be considered. Long after a small group of Chitimacha women produced thousands of rivercane baskets along Bayou Teche, these objects continued to carry out important work at home and beyond.

Daniel H. Usner is the Holland N. McTyeire Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy (University of North Carolina Press, 1992), American Indians in the Lower Mississippi Valley: Social and Economic Histories (University of Nebraska Press, 1998), Indian Work: Language and Livelihood in American Indian History (Harvard University Press, 2009), Weaving Alliances with Other Women: Chitimacha Indian Work in the New South (University of Georgia Press, 2015), and American Indians in Early New Orleans: From Calumet to Raquette (Louisiana State University Press, 2018). Before joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 2002, Usner taught for two decades at Cornell University, where he also served as Director of its American Indian Program. He was president of the American Society for Ethnohistory in 2010–11.