How the Saco River Got its Name: Wabanaki Place Names in Context

Biddeford Historical Society and Biddeford Pool Historical Society are co-hosting a weekend of events illuminating life in the 17th century colonial Province of Maine. Events are free, but donations are accepted/

“How the Saco River Got its Name: Wabanaki Place Names in Context,” will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24 at First Parish Meetinghouse, corner of Pool and Meetinghouse roads in Biddeford. Joe Hall, professor at Bates College, will present the program.

Plenty of people know that many placenames in Maine, such as “Saco,” come from Wabanakis, the indigenous group of this region. A few people might know what some of these words mean, such as that “Saco” means “a river outlet.” But what did it mean for Wabanakis to use these words and not others in their conversations with English colonists? In exploring that question, participants can see how Wabanaki place names tell us not only something about English-Wabanaki relations in the 1600s, but also how Wabanakis continue to have a presence in Maine in the centuries since.

Hall teaches colonial, American Indian and environmental history. He is researching the history of Wabanakis, Maine’s indigenous peoples, and is particularly interested in the ways that Wabanakis continued to cultivate ties to their homeland even as colonial peoples sought to dispossess them of it. In his lecture he will speak about the ways that Wabanaki place names offer some clues not only to how Wabanakis inhabited their homelands before colonists’ arrival, but also how they continued to inhabit those lands in the midst of colonization.

See the original listing in the Courier.

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Philippe Charland: A New French-Abenaki Dictionary

philippe-charland-abenakis

Au Québec, le nombre de personnes qui parlent l’abénaquis se compte sur les doigts de la main. Philippe Charland est l’un d’eux. En collaboration avec le conseil de bande d’Odanak, l’enseignant lancerait bientôt le premier dictionnaire français-abénaquis. Un outil qui pourrait faciliter l’apprentissage de la langue autochtone pratiquement éteinte.

Un texte de Raphaëlle Drouin

Philippe Charland (qui n’est pourtant pas Autochtone) enseigne l’abénaquis depuis maintenant 10 ans dans les communautés de Wôlinak et d’Odanak, dans le Centre-du-Québec.

Read the full article at Radio-Canada.

Alikwsimozi: Sweet-Fern

sweetfern-female-flower-vernon-2017

Sweet-fern – Comptonia peregrina – is a small, highly-aromatic, mounding shrub, 2-4 feet tall,  that may occur in dense colonies in poor soils. It has multiple stems with loose, spreading branches bearing long, narrow, olive-green leaves, the edges of which have rolled back edges and rounded, fern-like division. Flowers are brown catkins that appear before the leaves unfold. They develop into small nuts  in a bur-like husk. While sweet-fern’s common name derives from its appearance, it is not a fern at all; it is a member of the wax-myrtle or bayberry family (family Myricaceae). As with many other members of the family, the leaves are very aromatic: on a hot, sunny day you will know when you are walking past a stand of sweet fern.

Colonies are usually found in dry, sandy, infertile soils in full sun where other plants might have a hard time becoming established. Pine woods, cut-over forest, powerline right-of-ways, gravelly banks, abandoned and over-grazed pastures, and rocky outcrops are favorite places for sweet-fern. Preferring poor, acidic soils, sweet-fern fixes its own nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with Frankia bacteria living in nodules on its roots. It grows throughout N’dakinna – Abenaki country – from Quebec and the Maritimes south as far as Georgia, following the mountains.

Sweet-fern, along with many other aromatic plants, happens to be a good repellent for ants. This is a good thing to know when one is living close to the soil, in a bark wigw8m or lodge, perhaps with food items in loosely covered containers. Scattering fronds around the walls of the shelter would help to keep these tiny visitors from wearing out their welcome. Knowledge of this ant-repellent aspect is what creates sweet-fern’s Native name, which translates to “ant bush.”

Working from the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy names for this plant relative (see next paragraph), which both translate literally to “ant tree” or “ant bush,” we can easily construct an equivalent in Aln8ba8dwaw8gan – the Western Abenaki language. Sozap Lolo – Joseph Laurent – in his “New Familiar Abenakis and English Dialogues” gives the word for ant as alikws; to this we can add the Abenaki suffix for “tree” or “bush” which can take the form -mizi or -mozi. With the letter “i” as a connector, the combination is: alikws + i + mozi = alikwsimozi. The pronunciation can be given as ah-leek-oo-SEE-moh-zee. The third syllable “oo” is nearly voiceless.

sweet fern brattleboro 2018

This photo and the one preceding are from the sweet-fern nation in Sokwakik, Sokoki Abenaki country – n’dal8gom8mek. #allmyrelations

The Penobscot cognate is enikwsimosi (listen to audio here). It is used for eye medicine, with the leaves steeped in hailstorm water. It translates literally as “ant bush”.

The Passamaquoddy cognate is eniqsimus (listen to audio here). It, too, translates literally as “ant tree (bush).”

Among the Wabanaki people, and close relations, the uses of alikwsimozi include:

  • Ant repellent, also used for mosquitoes, as a skin rub or smudge
  • Lining berry baskets and buckets to aid in keeping the fruit fresh
  • Edible nutlets
  • As a relief for poison ivy and other skin itches, infusion in water or rubbed on
  • As a relaxing, dried ingredient in smoking mixtures
  • As a tea for upset stomach and colic
  • As a poultice for sprains or swelling
  • Burned for smoke in ceremony

In closing, I end with a poem by Mi’kmaq writer Alice Azure, from the collection entitled “Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England,” edited by Siobhan Senier, et al (Vol. 1, 2014):

Mi'kmaq Haiku

Kejimkoojik

cliffs, old sweet fern petroglyph

still keeping us calm.

On VPR: Vera Longtoe Sheehan for Women’s History Month with Molly Ockett

John-and-Vera-Longtoe-Sheehan-with-fiber-bag

Kwai Nedobak! Nd’elewizi Vera Longtoe Sheehan du Elnu Wôbanaki – that translates into English as: Hello my friends! My name is Vera Longtoe Sheehan, and I’m a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe.

I’m here to honor the countless generations of Wôbanaki women who were fiber artists and to the women that will carry this art form to future generations of our people. Most of their names have been lost to history, but they’re remembered for the textiles they created – and when we’re lucky, through the surviving textiles themselves.

The late Jim Petersen, a professor and Anthropology Department Chair at UVM, documented an extensive legacy of textile fragments dating back thousands of years that have been found in Abenaki archaeological sites. And I’ve personally had the honor of studying some of these surviving 18th-century textile pieces.

The Maine Historical Society has an 18th-century plant fiber object in their collection that was made by an Abenaki woman known as Molly Ockett, a healing woman who took care of people in her community, and who was also a talented fiber artist. As an herbalist, Molly would have been a keeper of extensive knowledge about different types of plants and what they were used for. She would also have known how to harvest plants like the milkweed or dogbane that she used to weave bags such as the fiber object that has come to be known as Molly’s Purse.

My father, John Sheehan, is an eighty-four-year-old Abenaki culture bearer who fondly remembers carts full of milkweed being delivered to his grandmother “Lena” during his childhood. He recalls watching his grandmother and aunties talking and laughing as they made milkweed string – then the hours they spent weaving it into market bags that they sold for less than twenty-five cents apiece. Later “Lena” taught him how to weave and he passed this family knowledge on to me – his daughter.

I’m honored to carry Lena’s fiber arts knowledge and pass it on to my daughter Lina who will carry it on to the next seven generations.

It is important for us to continue teaching weaving and other old-style art forms to revitalize our culture that connects us to our ancestors, our traditions, and n’dakinna – our homeland – now known as Vermont, New Hampshire, Northern Massachusetts, Southern Maine, and Quebec.

Link to the article and audio at Vermont Public Radio.

Jeanne Brink to be Honored at Middlebury College

jeanne brink abenaki basketmaker

From the Feb. 22, 2018 article in VTDigger.org.

Middlebury… will honor four other distinguished men and women with honorary degrees this year:

Jeanne A. Brink is an Abenaki artist and activist. She conducts workshops and programs on Western Abenaki storytelling, history, language, culture, basket making, oral tradition, dance, games, and current issues throughout Vermont and New England. Tracing her Abenaki heritage back to the early 1700s, she continues the tradition of Western Abenaki ash splint and sweetgrass fancy basketry as a master basket maker. Brink has served on the Vermont Commission for Native American Affairs, the Lake Champlain Basin Program Cultural Heritage and Recreation Advisory Committee, and many other local organizations. She is the author of several books about Abenaki art and language.

The Middlebury College Commencement ceremony will take place on the main quadrangle at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 27. More than 5,000 family members and friends are expected to attend.