Published on July 21, 2012 by Amy
Loren Me’-lash-ne Bommelyn (born 1956) is a tradition bearer for the Tolowa tribe. He has dedicated himself to preserving the traditional songs, language, and basketry. He is the foremost ceremonial leader of the tribe, and its most prolific basketweaver. Bommelyn is an enrolled member of the federally recognized Smith River Rancheria and was elected as their tribal secretary.
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Loren Bommelyn is both Tolowa and Karuk. He is a fluent speaker of the Tolowa language and taught for many years at Del Norte High School in Crescent City, California. He earned his Masters Degree in Linguistics from the University of Oregon. After years of studying with Tolowa elders, Bommelyn has published educational material about the Tolowa language. He played a role in convincing the University of California system accept Native American languages as part of its entrance requirements for world language.
Bommelyn helped establish and currently teaches at Tah-Ah-Dun Indian Magnet Charter School in Crescent City, where his wife, Lena Bommelyn is also employed. Of his work at Tah-Ah-Dun, Loren says, “It’s important for students to know they can move about freely in American society and that they can be open and successful. We try to provide them opportunities for expansion and exploration.
While women make most baskets among Northern California tribes, men traditionally weave open-work baskets with entire plant shoots. This requires both extreme physical strength and dexterity. Bommelyn specializes in these open-work, utilitarian baskets, especially those made with hazel shoots. He wove his first basket at the age of 12. Today he is known particularly for his work baskets and baby cradles.
There’s a fancy part of the basket and a realistic part. You want to strive for perfection, but at the same time you want to make it for a function… I want my baskets to be used. The old Indians say that things like to be used, that when they aren’t used they get lonesome.