Wabanaki and Ash

Wabanaki people have been living in the Dawnland since time immemorial, and their relationship with brown ash is just as long. According to one Wabanaki creation story, Gluskabe fired an arrow into a brown ash tree, and women and children emerged from its bark singing and dancing (Hudson Museum). Ash is therefore woven into the cultural identity of Wabanaki people. In addition to its role in creation, ash is used as a primary material in Wabanaki basketry, which is currently practiced by about 200 Wabanaki artisans in Maine alone (Neptune and Neuman 2015). The growth rings of ash trees have unique structural qualities that make them suitable for pounding, splitting, and weaving. There is no comparable wood material in the Northeast. Selling ash baskets has been and continues to be an important source of income for Wabanaki people. Protecting ash is therefore critical to protecting this cultural tradition and economic lifeway, and groups like the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance have been working to revitalize Wabanaki basketry since 1993. 

To report a stand of brown ash you’d like to share with Wabanaki ash harvesters, please fill out this form.

Resources about Wabanaki people and Brown Ash

Tools to protect Wabanaki relationships to brown ash

Part of APCAW’s work is to build understanding about the importance of Wabanaki peoples relationship with brown ash, and share examples of how that relationship can be protected. There are a number of tools that already exist that protect Wabanaki relationships to brown ash and their ability to harvest ash. Existing tools should be adapted for the unique ecologies and significance of each location, as each is imperfect and comes with strengths and limitations. Landowners must also consider that not all brown ash is basket quality ash, and Wabanaki harvesters look for very specific characteristics of harvestable ash.

Existing tools to formalize access include:

  • Handshake agreements 
  • Access permits 
  • Cultural respect and use agreements
  • Land return