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Press Release

Release Date: May 11, 2017

by Dana Lance

  • Chickasaw Basket weaver Sue Fish at the the Oka Kapassa Festival, Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Chickasaw artist Sue Fish combines her passion for preserving tribal culture and language during her many demonstrations of basket weaving throughout Oklahoma.

Fish spends copious hours sharing the art and tradition of basket weaving in community schools, universities and civic and tribal events.

A Norman, Oklahoma resident, Fish is one of 116 elite Native artists selected to participate in the Artesian Arts Festival, May 27 in Sulphur, Oklahoma.

The artist says she hopes to instill basket appreciation to everyone who participates in her interactive demonstrations.

“The first basket class I taught was for the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center's Native American Club, when it was located in Oklahoma City.  We wove sweet grass baskets with natural materials from the Seminole Florida natives, she said.

“I love sharing some of the processes our ancestors may have experienced in basket making.  It's an important way I connect with my culture.”

Plodding through the muddy, overgrown creek banks of southeastern Oklahoma, Fish harvests much of her own river cane, which she brings to her basket weaving classes to share with the students.

“During the classes, I provide general southeastern basket background information, a show-and-tell with my basket collection, review the various basket types and their uses, natural materials used and how they are processed in preparation for weaving,” Fish said.

She also teaches about basket patterns and their meanings and provides examples of nuts, roots and other items used in basket making.

Each student is given the opportunity to weave a basket. The type of basket they weave varies from student to student and class to class, she explained.

Historically, many Native Americans created baskets for utilitarian purposes, to carry and store everything from food to worldly goods.

Fish provides the expert knowledge and materials to get the students started on their own hand-woven basket.

“I want them to appreciate the processes our ancestors had to go through to provide valuable baskets for our tribes,” she said.

Fish has been perfecting her craft for the past three decades.  Her first experience was in a basic round reed basket class offered by the Chickasaw Nation in the late 1980s taught by her late cousin, Betty Dodd.

“I owe a lot to her because she was very persistent and wouldn't take my, ‘I'm too busy to come to the class’ excuse.”

After that first class, Fish fell in love with basket making and delved into a course of self-study of a variety of Native American baskets from primarily southeastern tribes.

“I wanted to study the various basket types and their uses and how to weave patterns, learn what natural materials and dyes were used and how to process them for weaving,” Fish said.

Throughout the years, Fish has enrolled in additional classes to gain more knowledge.

She also networks and shares her craft with other basket weavers.

“I am most appreciative of the talented people God has put in my path that I can utilize when I have questions or get stuck with weaving or dyeing challenges.

Serving as vice president of the Oklahoma Native American Basket Weaver's Association Fish has made lifelong friendships with many “unselfish weavers who graciously share their weaving expertise of whom I am most grateful,” she said.

Chickasaw Connection

Growing up in the Ada area, Mrs. Fish spent much of her childhood on her Chickasaw grandfather’s farm near Kullihoma; with few modern conveniences and vivid memories of kerosene lamps, wood stoves, open fire cooking and drawing water from a well. Traditional foods such as pashofa, wild onions, banaha (a type of cornbread) and grape dumplings were a family staple.

“I feel most connected to Kullihoma.  Chickasaw was spoken by many and I spoke Chickasaw until I started school at Allen,” she said. “I had a difficult time understanding my teacher and I remember crying a lot at school.”

Fish is now relearning the Chickasaw language and enjoys singing Choctaw hymns and she relishes her memories of exploring the woods around Kullihoma.

Her lineage originates from a line of medicine men.

“My great-grandfather John Jonah Alexander was a well-known medicine man in the Allen community,” she said.

Honors and Awards

Mrs. Fish received the prestigious 2016 Chickasaw Nation Silver Feather Award due to her efforts to preserve and revitalize Chickasaw basketry and her invaluable contributions to Chickasaw culture and heritage.

She was also a featured artist in the "Madonnas of the Prairie, Depictions of Women in the American West,” March 2015 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City.

Some of her baskets are on display at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, Chickasaw Gallery Gift Shop in Sulphur, Oklahoma, the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center in Ada, the Chickasaw Clinic in Ardmore and Exhibit C in Oklahoma City.

Ms. Fish joined the team of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, Oklahoma, in 2007. She also served 17 years with the University of Oklahoma’s American Indian Institute and 10 years working with the Chickasaw Nation, and she is a 25-year volunteer for Indian Falls Creek Baptist Assembly Camp in Davis, Oklahoma.

She participates in the invitational “Art of the Chickasaw Women” Exhibit, the SEASAM (Southeastern Art Show and Market), the Chickasaw Festival, “Oka Kapassa” (Return to Coldwater) Festival in Tuscumbia, Alabama; Fred Jones Museum of Art, Norman; National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City Art Train USA, Oklahoma City Native American Heritage Month at Public Libraries in the Oklahoma City metro area, and the Artesian Art Market, since its inception in 2014.

“It’s great to see how the Artesian Arts Festival has grown each year.  I have invited several artists to participate and they are always glad they did.”

The daughter of the late Kelsie (Alexander) Morris and the late Colson Miller, Ms. Fish is a Chickasaw citizen, who also has Choctaw heritage.  Her grandparents, Watt and Minnie (Nelson) Alexander and Colbert and Lula (Frazier) Miller are all original enrollees.

Ms. Fish lives in Norman with her husband, Willie Fish. They have four children and five grandchildren.

Last Updated: 09/16/2016