In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Why environmental advocacy is critical for making baskets

Why environmental advocacy is critical for making baskets

A story by Jennifer Sapiel Neptune from 2019

Jennifer Neptune gathering sweetgrass, by Alexandra Conover Bennett

Wabanaki elders formed the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance (MIBA) in 1993 to promote the art of basketmaking because they were concerned that younger people were not learning to make them. Basketmaking had skipped generations, so MIBA started doing workshops pairing elder master artists with younger apprentices, which follows our traditional way of teaching.

Part of our work involves environmental advocacy, and ensuring access to the raw materials needed to make traditional baskets: ash and sweet grass. For the past decade, MIBA has been preparing for the arrival of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), an invasive insect that devastates ash tree populations—the basis of Wabanaki basketmaking.

MIBA partnered with weavers from the Great Lakes area where EAB first emerged, Wabanaki Tribal governments, researchers at the University of Maine, Maine Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the US Forest Service. EAB has been our focus as it neared our borders, and was found in Maine in 2018.