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.

Abbe Museum to Exhibit Wabanaki Root Clubs

abbe museum root clubs emergence

A new exhibit will open in the Abbe Museum’s main gallery on Friday, April 6. An opening reception is set for 5-7 p.m.

“Unlike the ball club, which is very well known and very well published, the Penobscot root club has been almost completely ignored in the history books,” said exhibit curator Stan Neptune, Penobscot.“Emergence — Root Clubs of the Penobscot Nation” celebrates a uniquely Wabanaki art form, a centuries-old craft that has frequently been dismissed by museums and academics as not “traditionally” Wabanaki.

“In the late 19th century when anthropologists started collecting Native American objects, they perceived root clubs as just tourist items. They had no idea of the history. The ‘Emergence’ exhibit will tell that full history.”

The exhibit highlights the diversity of past and contemporary themes found in root club carving. Each club is made out of a sapling, with the slender trunk becoming a chip-carved handle, and the complex wood of the root ball’s burl transformed into evocative representations of people and creatures. Some are painted; some have ornaments attached.

Read the full coverage in the Mount Desert Islander.

The Wabanaki People Are Taking Back Their Narrative

Cultural preservation is self-preservation for Native communities. An upcoming film from the Upstanders Project, “Dawnland,” explains just that.

The documentary, now in post-production, follows the journeys of those involved in a truth and reconciliation process in Maine involving the Wabanaki people. The documentary examines the history and the implications of the removal of Native children from their homes in the US.

From boarding schools in the 1800s to foster care today, Native children have repeatedly been separated from their families. In Maine, the Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in 2012 to trace the abuses experienced by Native children since the Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted in 1978.
As early as 1975, a US Senate report found that Native children were 19 times more likely to be removed by child welfare workers than non-Native children. Today, Native children are still twice as likely to be taken from their homes and placed in foster care. Research has suggested this practice can lead to even greater isolation and erasure of indigenous culture.

The stories of Native children in foster care are peppered with horrific and unusual punishments, including not receiving food and being subject to physical harm as well as emotional and sexual abuse.

To tell these stories today, “Dawnland” has tapped advisers and consultants to help ensure the representation of the Wabanaki is accurate. Chris Newell is one of the advisers — he ensures the film is “culturally competent to the collective cultures of the Wabanaki territory.” Newell — born and raised in Motahkmikuhk, an Indian township in Maine — considers the story of Dawnland not his own, but rather the story of many of the people he grew up with.

Hear more about cultural preservation in “Dawnland,” by listening to the audio above.

Future Folk shares the stories of communities through the music that they make. It is a co-production of PRI’s The World and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

This Centuries-Old Canoe Was a Critical Element of Wabanaki Life

wabanaki canoe brunswick maine press herald

One of the oldest-known examples of a Native American birch-bark canoe is on display at a museum in Maine, where indigenous tribes have used them for thousands of years.

The canoe put on display Thursday dates to the mid-1700s, said members of the Pejepscot Historical Society. It’s an example of the type of canoe that was critically important to the history and culture of the Wabanaki, the first people of parts of northern New England and Atlantic Canada.

This type of canoe was “extremely important for your family’s survival” for the Wabanaki people, said the Penobscot Nation’s tribal historian James E. Francis Sr. The Penobscot, one of four Wabanaki tribes still existing in Maine, still builds them today.

Bangor to Designate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Columbus Day

Bangor City Hall

The Bangor City Council on Monday night voted to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of every October — a day the federal government has designated to honor Christopher Columbus.

Bangor follows a growing number of cities and states that have decided to shift the focus from Columbus to the people who lived here before the arrival of European explorers and colonists.

Belfast was the first Maine city to take that step in 2015.

The city council’s resolve, which was approved in a unanimous vote, came at the request from members of the Penobscot Nation, whose Tribal Council member Maulian Dana Smith led the effort. She worked with Councilor Sarah Nichols, who brought it forward to the full council.

See the complete article in the Bangor Daily News.

Text of the Bangor, ME Indigenous Peoples’ Day Proclamation

Bangor ME Indigenous Peoples Day text

Link to City Council agenda for Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 with draft proclamation (page 13). The Council adopted it unanimously that night. Maulian Dana Smith of the Penobscot Nation Council helped to spearhead this effort for her People.