Gloria Mills Smith

“My name is Gloria Mills Smith, I am a Suquamish Tribal Elder.

I began working with sweetgrass and red cedar around the age of 10. My Great-Grandmother, Cecelia Jackson (a Makah native, married into the Suquamish tribe to Henry Jackson Sr.) lived next door to our family. My mother, Dolores Mill, a Suquamish Elder, would send my sister (Jackie Severson) and I to my Grandmother’s house during the summer to learn to make the baskets.

She would start us off working with just sweetgrass, making small thimble baskets, and worked us up to making larger baskets using red cedar and mountain grass. Later on, when I was older, I asked my Grandmother to show me how to make the sweetgrass dolls, which is what I mainly make now.

Sweetgrass only grows where fresh water meets saltwater. We would gather in the summer around the end of June. It grows in a muddy bog, so we would have to spend a lot of time preparing it after returning home. First, it would have to be washed, then gathered into small hanks of about 20-30 long blades, using her scraps from quilting. Then, they would be hung outside, or in a dry place, until completely dried. Then, they would be loosely packed away until use. The other material I use is raffia, for the different colors.”