Maine Voices Live features 1:1 conversations between Portland Press Herald writers and notable Mainers. Audience members can experience a memorable night with a Q&A at the end. 

Authors Suzanne Greenlaw and Gabriel Frey talk with Portland Press Herald reporter Ray Routhier about their new children’s book, “The First Blade of Sweetgrass,” and about the relative lack of books from a Native American perspective in Maine and elsewhere. The couple, who live in Orono, wrote it because they couldn’t find many books they felt told their two young children about their heritage.

Gabriel Frey is a 12th generation Passamaquoddy black ash basketmaker, specializing in utility baskets with a modern approach. Growing up in a basket making family, Frey learned traditional weaving techniques at a young age as well as the importance of self-expression through the traditional basket making art form—a skill he has been honing over the past 22 years. 

Black ash basket making and the black ash tree hold spiritual, cultural, and economic significance to him and his Passamaquoddy community. His artistic process includes locating and harvesting black ash trees from the woods, processing black ash logs, and weaving black ash materials into basket forms, embedding his culture within each basket. The recent introduction of the invasive Emerald Ash Borer has threatened the cultural practice of black ash basking making, which makes the preservation and dissemination this tradition even more pivotal to the cultural landscape. While his approach to basketmaking is firmly rooted in his indigenous tradition, he is pushing the art form into new realms of functional wearable art pieces. By incorporating leather, natural dyes, and silversmithing, he transforms how people envision the functionality of his artwork. Frey’s motivation is producing beautiful, wearable, and functional art for daily use that embodies the Passamaquoddy worldview, inviting each person who buys a basket to feel and experience this culture every day.

Suzanne Greenlaw is a citizen of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and a Ph.D candidate at the University of Maine School of Forest Resources.    She is an ethno botanist focused on mobilizing Indigenous Knowledge and cultural practices to address Indigenous cultural resource issues such as reduced access, invasive species planning, and restoration of traditional gathering practices.


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