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.
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Brunswick Junior HS Holds Wabanaki Cultural Day

wabanaki-basket-weaving

The junior high school was abuzz with more than just typical Friday excitement May 11, when seventh-graders broke away from their standard classroom routine for a special reason. The afternoon marked the school’s first-ever Wabanaki Cultural Day, and allowed the students to try their hands at traditional native crafts and activities.

Teachers also got a break from their usual classes, as experts in each area of instruction from the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes led the activities.

Social studies teacher Carla Shaw, one of the organizers of the event, said it was made possible by a $2,500 grant from the Brunswick Community Education Foundation. Shaw and talent development teacher Sharon McCormack applied for the funding. Maine schools are mandated to teach about Wabanaki culture, but Shaw said “there’s not a lot of resources out there,” aside from some pages in the social studies textbook.

Read the article by Elizabeth Clemente in The Forecaster.

Photo by The Forecaster also.

Bar Harbor to Host Northeast’s Biggest Native American Marketplace

Gabriel Frey Abbe Museum Market

Gabriel Frey separates each layer of ash as if he is peeling an onion. He removes one thin layer after another until he reduces what had been a formidable stick of wood into a small bundle of flexible ribbons. He then narrows each with a hand-held, handmade splitting tool, and weaves the strips seamlessly into one of his ash baskets.

Frey, a Passamaquoddy who works in the basement studio of his Orono home, is busy preparing baskets for seasonal markets in Maine and elsewhere, including several for the Smithsonian Institution, which commissioned him to make baskets for its New York gift shop. He is among a large group of American Indian artists from Maine whose reputations are growing nationally, enhanced by their successes at juried American Indian art markets across the country. For six years, Wabanaki artists from Maine have won top honors at the Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico, the largest indigenous art fair in the world. Frey was among three Wabanaki artists to win ribbons at the most recent market in August, snagging a first-place award and an honorable mention.

Next spring, Frey will show his work closer to home, as the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor hosts a three-day juried American Indian art market May 18-20 in downtown Bar Harbor, creating more exposure for Indian art and artists from Maine and the Northeast. Maine is home to many small American Indian festivals and fairs – the Maine Indian Basketmakers Holiday Market held last weekend at the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine is a good example – but a large-scale juried art show that encompasses a range of arts and attracts artists and audiences from across North America is unusual if not unprecedented in the Northeast, said Abbe Museum President and Chief Executive Officer Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko. Nearly all the major American Indian art fairs are in the Southwest or Northern Plains.

Wabanaki Confederacy 2017 at Kejimkujik Mi’kmaki

hugh akagi paasamaquoddy wabananaki confederacy 2017

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.

Read the full story from kukukwes.com.

Native American Heritage on Display at Annual Festival

Wabanaki Basketmaking

Folks in Bar Harbor got to experience a little taste of history. The annual Native American Festival and Basketmakers market brought music, dance, and a lesson in culture to Downeast Maine.

“You know Maine a lot of times doesn’t really know much about indigenous population so it’s a wonderful gathering of artisans and drummers and sharing.”

Each handcrafted item represents the beauty and culture of the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot people. For many visitors it’s a chance to meet artists and learn about contemporary Wabanaki art from the Maritimes.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see each other and share our music with them. We are a strong part of Maine history and we would like to bring that back.”

See the full article by Alyssa Thurlow on WABI 5.

The Wabanaki Helped Us Secure Self-governance. It’s Time We Returned the Favor.

wabanaki drum group bangor daily news

A thoughtful column in the Bangor Daily News by Cassandra Cousins Wright.

This July Fourth, we celebrate our freedom as memorialized in the Declaration of Independence. Our ancestors declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” While we celebrate securing these rights for ourselves as settlers, we ignore what we have done to our allies the Wabanaki people, the original people of this land, who helped us to secure these rights.

The Wabanaki flourished in what we recognize as Maine. The many distinct people who once called this area home have been reduced to four federally recognized tribes: the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation. The four resilient, surviving tribes battle the state government every day to live free as their beliefs, cultures, values, spirituality, traditions and ancestors inform them to live. Why does Maine and the United States withhold from them what we declared 241 years ago as the inherent rights of all human beings?

Abbe Museum Welcomes New Trustees

Gabe Frey Sarah Sockbeson Abbe Museum BDN

The Abbe Museum has added two new members to its Board of Trustees, bringing the total number of Trustees to 16. The new appointees, Gabriel Frey, Passamaquoddy, and Sarah Sockbeson, Penobscot, assumed their new roles on June 2, 2017. Abbe Trustees Jeff Dalrymple and Richard Cleary were elected to a third term.

“We are honored to have Gabe and Sarah join the Abbe’s board,” said Abbe Museum Board Chair Ann Cox Halkett. “Both bring talents and new perspectives that will complement and strengthen our energetic and engaged board. Their leadership will be especially important as the Abbe continues its commitment to decolonization and launches the first annual Abbe Museum Indian Market in Bar Harbor in May 2018.”

See the full story in the Bangor Daily News.