In the mid-afternoon hours on Saturday, three days before the official start of spring, 21 friends both old and new sat in a circle inside the council chambers of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs Cultural Community Education Center in Presque Isle.
Tribal Elder Norman Bernard passed a tobacco pipe around to those who did not have their own and began a ceremony of storytelling and sharing of knowledge that has been part of the Micmac Spring Bear Feast for many generations.
“As the pipe goes around, if someone has a story to share with the bear, I encourage you to,” Bernard said, as he began the sharing circle part of the ceremony. “Every story has a lesson and we all have something to teach each other.”
Every spring, the Micmacs hold a daylong Spring Bear Feast to honor the coming of spring and the bear that has come out of hibernation. In their culture, the bear represents a reawakening of life after the often long, cold winter as well as strength and endurance gained from elders who have since passed on and become ancestors. They hold a similar ceremony in the fall to honor the bear going into hibernation.
“For us, it’s a way of celebrating the bear, which is very sacred,” said Bernard Jerome, former Micmac cultural director. Jerome traveled from the Native community of Gesqapegiag in Quebec to attend the Spring Bear Feast.
Last Saturday, about two dozen people gathered in West Barnet to play the traditional Native American winter game of snow snake. The games also coincided with the official opening of the Nulhegan Abenaki Cultural Center.
“This is an ancient Native game,” explained Donald Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan band of the Abenaki nation. “You slide a stick down the track. Whoever goes the farthest wins.”
The games were held in Derby Line for the last three years.
This weekend’s Longhouse Elders Gathering, also known as Midwinter Celebrations, brought Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together to learn about traditional Wabanaki culture.
The ceremony was held at St. Thomas University [Fredericton, New Brunswick] from Feb. 9 to 11.
Typically in Indigenous culture, the midwinter gathering lasts for a 10-day period and is an opportunity for elders to pass along traditional knowledge and cultural teachings to younger generations.
Miigam’agan, St. Thomas University’s elder in residence, said the ceremony is meant to be a time of reflection.
Hugh Akagi thought about the future of the Wabanaki Confederacy while the partial eclipse was happening Monday afternoon.
The chief of the Passamaquoddy people in Canada had travelled from his home in St. Andrews, N.B. to Kejimkujik National Park near Maitland Bridge, N.S., to take part in the Wabanaki Confederacy’s four-day annual summer gathering.
Akagi and 40 other Indigenous people gathered at the national park Monday afternoon to take part in a traditional ceremony to light the sacred fire to start the confederacy’s event. They all watched as several people spent nearly an hour trying to light the fire with a single flint during the partial eclipse.
“I’m thinking the fire needs to come to life, the confederacy needs to come back to life,” Akagi explained following the ceremony.
“The confederacy has gone through some pretty dark years, pretty rough times as every individual tribe, every Native person has,” he said.
“How do we rekindle that fire, how to bring it to life? How do we bring back the songs?” he asked.
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Filmed in night vision at the Jamaica State Park archeological dig. The El-Nu Abenaki Tribe Singers led the public through a night of traditional story-telling and songs. Video by Lina Longtoe of Askaw8bi Productions.
The Abenaki Heritage Weekend gathering this weekend (June 24-25, 2017), at the lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, will open each day at 10:30 am with a traditional Greeting Song, such as this.