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Speaker weaves math with folk crafts

Lola Olson

What do basket weaving and math have in common?

Everything, according to Kim Shuck, an educator, writer and weaver of the Tsalagi and Sauk/Fox nations. Shuck held a workshop two weeks ago in celebration of Native American Heritage Month that combined basket weaving with mathematics.

Shuck demonstrated to students how their basket weaving pattern could create the math formula for pi. The fusion of math and creativity engaged many Mills students.

“The combination of the two fascinates me. It’s like I’m holding math,” sophomore Nichole Stockman said.

“When you’re doing weaving, you create a checkerboard pattern which is a graph, which gives you the basis for a formula,” said Shuck, who has lectured extensively about math and Native American issues.

While it was difficult for some students to understand how weaving their baskets displayed the formula for pi, most students enjoyed their newly learned ability to make baskets with a mix of mathematics.

Senior Leah Herrera, a member of the Native American Sisterhood Alliance, said she first had the idea of the event because of her personal interest in math.

“I wanted to invite Kim Shuck to Mills to teach this because we’re honoring Native women this year because women are overlooked in math, especially Native women,” Herrera said.

NASA, as well as other cosponsors such as the Ethnic Studies Department, sponsors the Native American Heritage Month at Mills. Their focus this year is on the role of Native women as teachers, healers and leaders.

The combination of basket weaving and math explores how Native women taught math through weaving.

“It’s nice to see an example-pre-colonization-of women teaching math,” said NASA member and senior Esther Lucera.

While students wove baskets, Shuck demonstrated the complexities behind the craft and enjoyed interaction with Mills students.

“Even though I’m a proletariat woman and I don’t like private colleges, I really love Mills. People really invested in the activity, and I had a great time,” Shuck said.

Likewise, students enjoyed learning the mathematics of weaving.

“Weaving baskets is pretty complicated. Not knowing a lot about my heritage, it’s great to experience something my ancestors experienced,” said NASA member Kathryn Hall, a freshwoman.

Many students walked away with small, completed baskets and an understanding of how math combines with basket weaving.

“I’m a crafty person and a math major, so this is right up my alley,” said Stockman.

Students also showed an interest in more events like the basket weaving.

“I think they should do things like this more often,” freshwoman Amanda Bailey said.

“Math is in everything,” Shuck said.