Penobscot basket maker Theresa Secord is among 13 “culture bearers” selected for the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship, a program created in 2019 to honor intellectual Native leaders. It includes a $75,000 cash award and access to educational resources for training and professional development.

Theresa Secord dancing in a basket ceremony in Washington in 2018. Courtesy of Theresa Secord

Secord, a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow in 2016, founded the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance and has worked to preserve and promote the art of ash and sweetgrass basketry.

The fellowship is supported by a partnership between the First Nations Development Institute and the Henry Luce Foundation. In a news release, First Nations President and CEO Michael Roberts said the fellowship promotes the ability of Indian tribes and individuals to control their cultural assets.

“Working with the Luce Foundation, we can stand behind these leaders who are the culture bearers in their communities, and we hope this Fellowship allows us to stand with them so that they may focus on their work, amplify it, and make it even more profound.”

As part of her fellowship, Secord will work with an apprentice and demonstrate ash and sweetgrass basketry, as well organize basketry phrases into a working document that can be shared with the community, tribal language educators and others. She will work with speakers and tribal linguists to preserve and practice Indigenous language in Wabanaki basketry.

In a statement, Secord said the fellowship fulfills a long-held dream. “To be able to weave traditional ash and sweetgrass baskets in my language is something my late teacher told me (in 1990) I would need to do, in order to be truly proficient as a basket maker.”

In addition to the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship, Secord, who lives in Farmington, also recently received an honorary degree from Colby College, where she is a member of the Colby College Museum of Art Board of Governors.

Other winners of the fellowship were Brooke Mosay Ammann, St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin; Charlene Stern, Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government; Charles Kealoha Leslie, Native Hawaiian; Charles E. “Aulii” Mitchell, Native Hawaiian; Gimiwan Dustin Burnette, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe; Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu Kanaka, Native Hawaiian; Jennifer Malone, Wukchumni; Reba Jo Teran, Eastern Shoshone; Richard Moves Camp, Oglala Sioux; Steven A. Darden, Diné (Navajo), Cheyenne; Delores Churchill, Ketchikan Indian Corporation/Haida; Evelyn Lance Blanchard, Laguna/Yaqui.

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