The revelation: Spotlight on Theresa Secord

It was while learning to weave baskets from tribal elders that Theresa Secord had a revelation.

“I looked around and I could see that I was the only person under the age of 50 learning,” she said. “I could see that the tradition would be gone in a generation or two.”

That moment of clarity led to Secord’s distinguished work as an artist, a trainer and mentor to up-and-coming Native artists, and a valuable partner to First Peoples Fund. Secord, who is a member of the Penobscot tribe and has served on the FPF board of directors since 2010, has helped guide the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance (MIBA) into a leading role as one of the state’s most important preservation organizations. The alliance is a cultural organization whose mission is to preserve traditional ash and sweetgrass basketry among the four tribes in Maine.

Secord’s work has not gone unnoticed. Most recently, she was named the 2013 Master Craft Artist by the Maine Crafts Association. The association selected Secord because of her contributions to the craft as well as her commitment to supporting Native basketmakers. FPF also honored Secord in 2009 with a Community Spirit Award.

Secord began making baskets in the late 1980s. She helped start MIBA in 1993 to not only preserve the basketmaking tradition, but break down some of the barriers Native Americans face in sustaining their cultural traditions.

She has been credited with the resurgence of the art form. Since the alliance’s inception, the average age of basketmakers has dropped from 63 to 40 and the numbers of weavers has increased from 55 to 200.

“She is an outstanding example of a person who sees a possibility, seizes an opportunity and takes action for the betterment of her community—and all peoples,” said Lori Pourier, president of First Peoples Fund. “Theresa Secord is synonymous with sustaining culture.”

But Secord is quick to give the credit to others. Even with the rising number of young basketmakers as her work grew, she said something was missing initially in the equation of producing successful, passionate Native artists.

And that’s where First Peoples Fund came in, she said.

“These artists are becoming really successful, but they often are lacking the business knowledge, how to do taxes and marketing… how to be an entrepreneur,” she added. “We can help them become successful basketmakers, but we really needed help with the other piece.”

The partnership with First Peoples Fund, which has helped connect those artists with their local Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), and provided numerous trainings in the technical skills of running a business, has been vitally important to artists, Secord said.

“It’s a vibrant, great collaboration,” she said. “We are making a difference.”