Getting to or from Eastport means driving through the Passamaquoddy’s Pleasant Point Reservation. And yes, I dutifully observe the 35 mile an hour speed limit. I also gladly pay the voluntary “toll” that helps fund the fireworks for the tribe’s annual festival. Besides, it’s a better bargain than a movie and, anyway, we’re all invited.
Having lived previously at the edge of the Yakama reservation in Washington state, I appreciate having an Indigenous population so close at hand.
Here are some things I’ve learned.
- The first time I heard of the tribe was through a traditional healer and his apprentice who were our house guests maybe a dozen years ago back in Dover. And ever since, thanks to his warning, I never disrespect a mockingbird. Could that be why I’m still here?
- The tribe generally proclaims itself as “people of the dawn” or even “keepers of the dawn.” I’ve already posted that the dawns around here – the first light in the USA – are unique and full of wonder. But the tribal name’s root reflects the importance of fishing in their culture – “pollock-spearer” or “those of the place where pollock are plentiful.”
- Traditionally, for most of their 10,000 or more years, they summered in settled villages around the coasts and tributaries on both sides of the St. Croix River, where they harvested shellfish and worked the deep waters. In winter they dispersed inland, where they hunted large game.
- Today their centers are Sipayak (the Pleasant Point Reservation adjoining Eastport), where 2,005 members are enrolled; Motahkomikuk (Indian Township an hour to the north), 1,364 members; and Qonasqamkuk in New Brunswick, 206. There are also uninhabited tribal tracts inland.
- Economically, on-reservation families have a much higher poverty-income rate compared to Maine overall. The tribe is making efforts to improve income. A blueberry enterprise, a maple-syrup operation, and vacation sites are among its new directions.
- About 500 people speak its Algonquian dialect. After a steep decline in numbers over recent decades, efforts to preserve and reclaim its use are under way. It is being taught in the elementary schools.
- They’ve long been considered first-class loggers and woodworkers, as well as excellent basketry artists.
- In 1993 the state banned the use of the word “Passamaquoddy” by businesses, products, and activities without the written authorization of the tribe. Those using it before that date, however, were exempted.
- The tribe is one of four comprising the Wabanaki Confederacy today.
- Joe Clabby’s two excellent histories about Eastport and the Passamaquoddy vicinity delineate seemingly endless governmental mismanagement, mistreatment, and betrayal of the tribe and others in Maine and the nation – even when its members have served with honor in the world wars. One entry, relatively minor in comparison, hits home for me. In 1950, longtime “Indian agent … Hiram Hall allowed the state to charge the Passamaquoddy Fund $8,000 per home for home construction (the homes are worth only $2,500.)” Not that it ended his career.