Indigenous people throughout the North American continent have cultivated, created, and propagated numerous fibers for a wide variety of practical uses long before the arrival of European settlers. From clothing, basketry, netting, and building materials, the fiber innovations and knowledge that maintained Indigenous existence often included cultivation, propagation, generational skill and knowledge bases, and an understanding of place-based lands and environments. Plant based fibers are as numerous as the Indigenous communities who steward them. These practices, unfortunately, have largely been displaced through the removal of Indigenous people from their lands, acculturation of Indigenous communities into mainstream capitalist systems, and the introduction of replacement materials such as metals and plastic. However, there are pockets of Indigenous fiber practitioners who maintain and build upon these long-standing fiber practices.
The purpose of the Native American Fiber Program is to support communities and practitioners who still maintain place-based fiber practices, as well as support the production of fiber in tribal communities utilizing regenerative agriculture practices. It’s mission is to perpetuate Indigenous fiber knowledge, arts, and economic opportunities.
The Native American Fiber Program has two components:
- The Tribal Hemp Project is focused on developing a hemp industry that would serve both Indian Country development and nation-wide markets, with a priority on economic development in Indian Country. The project focuses on creating an entire supply chain within Indian Country that serve Indian Country, from the growing of raw materials, financing, value added product development, and eventually product market.
- The Traditional Indigenous Fiber Project is focused on cultivating, supporting, and protecting traditional Indigenous fiber skills, communities, and practices. Because of issues around land access, environmental degradation, cultural assimilation, and competing interests, many traditional indigenous fiber arts are being replaced, reduced, and forgotten. Traditional indigenous fiber production practices foster regenerative agriculture and environmental stewardship, while also providing an important alternative to destructive plastics.