Luce Fellow Spotlight: Corine Pearce

“Basket weaving heals and restores both the land and the people,” says Pearce. “The masterful art form that I practice and teach could only come from here: this is the land and these are the plants that my ancestors have tended for thousands of years.”

Corine Pearce (Redwood Valley Little River Band of Pomo), who is among the first cohort of Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellows, believes that Pomo baskets are key to strengthening and empowering her people and community.

In 2020, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) in partnership with the Henry Luce Foundation (Luce) awarded 10 $50,000 fellowships to support Indigenous knowledge holders and knowledge makers dedicated to creating positive community change. The Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship is a 12-month, self-directed enrichment program that provides fellows with the funding and connections necessary to maximize their potential and spark significant innovation and transformation in their communities.

Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellow:

Corine Pearce carries the Pomo name Pikha-bthum-day or “Basket-flower-woman.”

Corine Pearce (Redwood Valley Little River Band of Pomo) is among the first cohort of Luce Indigenous Knowledge fellows. Pearce is a Native California basket weaver. She has more than 30 years’ experience processing and preparing Pomo baskets, including cradle baskets, twine baskets, and feather/beaded/plain coil baskets. They range in sizes from dime-sized baskets to full size-serviceable cradles.

“I have been weaving since I was nine,” says Pearce. “I was sleeping in a tent under a willow tree, dreaming of my great-grandmother saying: ‘You have my hands – you know how to weave.’ The willow woke me up and explained to me what to do: where to cut it, how to weave it.”

Growing up, Pearce did not have access to any living Pomo basket weaving teachers. She is primarily self-taught, learning through trial and error. To learn this dying cultural art form, Pearce traveled across the country to find and study Pomo baskets held in private collections and museums.

Pearce’s vision for her community is to mentor a new generation of Pomo basket weavers. In 2020, the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship provided her with the funding and support necessary to achieve that lifelong goal.

Over the fellowship period, Pearce launched a new apprenticeship program to increase the number of Pomo weavers in her community. Prior to COVID-19, she intended to host these classes and hands-on demonstrations in-person. During the pandemic, however, she transitioned to online learning and reached an even bigger audience than she ever imagined.

Pearce has weaved Pomo baskets for more than 30 years.

“The fellowship has been life-altering,” says Pearce. “It has allowed me to have a greater impact in my community. It has allowed me to preserve a dying cultural art so that I could share it with others.”

During the fellowship period, Pearce also began revising her second book on Pomo basket weaving, laying the groundwork for a new video series on Pomo basket weaving, and most recently establishing the Pomo Basket Weavers’ Society.

Community Background and Impact

Pearce carries the Pomo name Pikha-bthum-day, which means “basket-flower-woman.” She lives and works in Pomo Country (i.e., Redwood Valley, California), tending her family’s ancestral homelands in northern California.

The Redwood Valley Little River Band of Pomo are Indigenous to California. In 1958, the U.S. terminated the Redwood Valley Reservation along with 43 other California Rancherias. In response, the Redwood Valley Reservation, along with several other California tribes, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government seeking federal re-recognition. They won their lawsuit in 1983.

The termination period of the 1950s and 1960s had a devastating impact on many tribal nations. During this time, the government terminated recognition of more than 100 tribes as sovereign dependent nations. In many ways, this policy helped undermine the relationship that contemporary Pomo people had to their land, language and culture.

Despite these losses, however, basket weaving remained an honored and valued tradition among Pomo people. Many traditional Pomo baskets still exists today. Pearce believes that these baskets are key to strengthening and empowering her people and community.

Pearce tends the sedge beds along the banks of the Russian River.

“Basket weaving heals and restores both the land and the people,” says Pearce. “The masterful art form that I practice and teach could only come from here: this is the land and these are the plants that my ancestors have tended for thousands of years.”

According to Pearce, basket weaving has the potential to reconnect Pomo people to their land and each other. Her goal is to help Pomo families, like her own, reclaim their ancestral traditions and revitalize their tribal communities.

Pomo Basket Weaving

To restore this important cultural art form, Pearce regularly teaches and presents on Pomo basket weaving. Traditionally, Pomo baskets were used for hunting, fishing, gathering, and cooking. Today, these baskets are present at every major Pomo life event from birth to death, including baby showers, community feasts and funerals.

Pearce explains: “When we create a basket – a basket you put your baby in, or you harvest traditional foods with – it is truly empowering. When you can go to the coast and harvest seaweed in a basket you made yourself, just like your ancestors did before you, it connects you to the place and people in a new way.”

The materials to weave Pomo baskets can only be found in Pomo Territory. Pearce and her family have carefully tended the ancestral territories of their tribe for generations. Pomo basket weaving is a seasonal process of tending, harvesting, and drying materials. Every year, Pearce carefully digs, cuts and dries the roots and branches of local plants such as willow, cattails, redbud, and dogwood.

Pearce cuts and dries local plants such as willow, cattails, redbud, and dogwood.

“My basketry strengthens the plants, habitats, and landscapes of our area,” says Pearce. “If I don’t continuously maintain that sedge bed, the sedge becomes unusable: the roots become knotty and short, instead of straight and long. My sedge work has helped strengthen the river banks and reduce soil erosion.”

Pearce is determined to preserve and perpetuate this rich cultural art form and practice for generations. She firmly states: “My weaving connects future generations to a living cultural identity, reminding them that they will also face struggles and triumphs, and they also carry the spirit of our ancestors.”

Sharing and Disseminating Knowledge

Over the years, Pearce has spent thousands and thousands of hours practicing and perfecting the art of Pomo basket weaving. She regularly shares this knowledge through classes, workshops, instructional videos, books, and other support services.

“Basket weaving heals and restores both the land and the people,” says Pearce.

Typically, Pearce offers hands-on training in small group settings. The Covid-19 pandemic forced her to alter her usual teaching methods and try her hand at online learning. According to Pearce, she initially struggled with Zoom and her new virtual environment. Today, she uses multiple cameras and interacts with 45 students (25 adults and 20 youth) per month.

Ironically, the pandemic, which has been isolating for so many people, has actually allowed Pearce to reach her largest audience to date. She estimates that more than 200 people have attended her monthly Zoom classes and workshops over the past year.

The pandemic has also allowed Pearce to be creative with social distancing activities. For example, she organized three outdoor basket weaving events for her students. They met outdoors in a one-acre field to harvest, process, and start weaving materials. Pearce notes that the events were so popular that she actually had to turn people away to maintain safe social distancing guidelines.

Although 2020 was a difficult year, Pearce did not let the pandemic stop her from achieving many of her goals. Instead, she simply revised them or extended some of her deadlines. For example, she notes that because of the pandemic, she wasn’t able to interview tribal elders and community members about the art of Pomo basket weaving. Instead, she used the time to familiarize herself with new technology so that she can work on these videos next year.

Similarly, she was not able to publish her second book on Pomo basket weaving because many smaller presses closed down during the pandemic. Instead, she used the time to polish and revise her manuscript. She said that extra time allowed her to better articulate herself and experiment with new basket weaving techniques that she can share with others. Overall, she said this experience made her a better teacher.

Last, but not least, during the fellowship period Pearce also established the first-ever Pomo Basket Weavers’ Society. The Society is a Facebook group intended to support the growing number of Pomo weavers in Pearce’s community. She notes that approximately 40 people joined the group this year and hopes those numbers will continue to grow.

Pearce weaves hundreds of Pomo cradle baskets for families in need.

Words of Gratitude

The Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship supports Indigenous knowledge holders and knowledge makers who are often the only individuals in their communities to practice certain traditions. Indeed, Pearce is only one of five remaining basket weavers in her area. The fellowship is helping her achieve her vision of increasing the number of traditional Pomo basket weavers in her community.

“This fellowship has allowed me to make more art and more weavers than ever before,” says Pearce. “More people have made Pomo baskets this year than in the past 30 years!”

Pearce is grateful to First Nations and the Luce Foundation for establishing this fellowship program and “elevating Indigenous knowledge holders.” She says, “This fellowship allows space to create the vision we have for our communities.”

To learn more about Pearce and how to support Pomo basket weavers, visit her website at