Wabanaki Basketmakers: Harvesting Sweetgrass Can Be Sustainable

wabanaki maine sweetgrass

Before Europeans settled on the East Coast, the Wabanaki tribes had open access to all of Maine’s natural resources, from eels to ash, and sweetgrass to salmon.

Currently jurisdictional battles over important natural resources still simmer, but the Wabanaki nation, and a handful of other federally recognized nations around the country, are working toward harvest rights in some of the nation’s most protected areas. A pilot project underway downeast could serve as a national model.

There are few places more challenging than a Maine marsh in the depths of July, which features humid, clinging air with the odor of rotten egg, plenty of places to disappear into the brackish muck and, of course, lots of mosquitos. But something very important has enticed generations of Wabanaki to places like this each summer.

“See this right here? This is solid, this is all sweetgrass right here. All of this…Behind you there’s another batch, but over there? See…that’s mixed in,” says Gal Frey.

Read and listen to this story at Maine Public.

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Bar Harbor to Host Northeast’s Biggest Native American Marketplace

Gabriel Frey Abbe Museum Market

Gabriel Frey separates each layer of ash as if he is peeling an onion. He removes one thin layer after another until he reduces what had been a formidable stick of wood into a small bundle of flexible ribbons. He then narrows each with a hand-held, handmade splitting tool, and weaves the strips seamlessly into one of his ash baskets.

Frey, a Passamaquoddy who works in the basement studio of his Orono home, is busy preparing baskets for seasonal markets in Maine and elsewhere, including several for the Smithsonian Institution, which commissioned him to make baskets for its New York gift shop. He is among a large group of American Indian artists from Maine whose reputations are growing nationally, enhanced by their successes at juried American Indian art markets across the country. For six years, Wabanaki artists from Maine have won top honors at the Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico, the largest indigenous art fair in the world. Frey was among three Wabanaki artists to win ribbons at the most recent market in August, snagging a first-place award and an honorable mention.

Next spring, Frey will show his work closer to home, as the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor hosts a three-day juried American Indian art market May 18-20 in downtown Bar Harbor, creating more exposure for Indian art and artists from Maine and the Northeast. Maine is home to many small American Indian festivals and fairs – the Maine Indian Basketmakers Holiday Market held last weekend at the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine is a good example – but a large-scale juried art show that encompasses a range of arts and attracts artists and audiences from across North America is unusual if not unprecedented in the Northeast, said Abbe Museum President and Chief Executive Officer Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko. Nearly all the major American Indian art fairs are in the Southwest or Northern Plains.

Abbe Museum Welcomes New Trustees

Gabe Frey Sarah Sockbeson Abbe Museum BDN

The Abbe Museum has added two new members to its Board of Trustees, bringing the total number of Trustees to 16. The new appointees, Gabriel Frey, Passamaquoddy, and Sarah Sockbeson, Penobscot, assumed their new roles on June 2, 2017. Abbe Trustees Jeff Dalrymple and Richard Cleary were elected to a third term.

“We are honored to have Gabe and Sarah join the Abbe’s board,” said Abbe Museum Board Chair Ann Cox Halkett. “Both bring talents and new perspectives that will complement and strengthen our energetic and engaged board. Their leadership will be especially important as the Abbe continues its commitment to decolonization and launches the first annual Abbe Museum Indian Market in Bar Harbor in May 2018.”

See the full story in the Bangor Daily News.