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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Finding Balance in Place

A personal musing.
When looking for understanding and self-guidance on something that is fraught with implications and possibilities (such as the thorny question of  identity), I try to back way up to a starting point for as much clarity and grounding as possible, before I move ahead into the present. It seems that when one jumps into the midst of a currently-transpiring moment, there are a lot of moving pieces: actors, past experiences, expectations, emotions, outcomes… all the elements of drama. It is nigh on impossible to see clearly, so gaining perspective as soon as is practical is important. With the challenge of the charged moment, it can be difficult to get one’s footing, or stay focused. The more that I can bring that groundedness to the matter-at-hand from the get-go, rather than try to develop it on the spot, the better my chances of coping adequately and mindfully. I have come to the realization that, as a human, the only thing I have any “power” over are my choices in the present. It is only the present which actually exists, with the past and the future existing as integral parts. So I try to make the best choices in the moment, by way of seeking balance in the place where I am.
So I think about things beforehand, when I am able, before diving in to the “question du jour.” I try to operate from an “ideal” perspective (to the best of my understanding), and then temper it with the realities of the situation and the others with whom I am involved. Note that “the others” are not limited to simply human. So, I try to handle identity in this manner as well. My basic understanding is that grappling with identity, as with everything else, is a seeking of balance. There is the way in which I see myself, and there is a way in which others see me. Ideally, I will conduct myself in an appropriate manner so these things are as clear as possible. I will be guided in these decisions by what I perceive as my responsibilities. I want to meet them as best as I can, to maintain the relationships with which I have been gifted in this state of being called “my life.” We are all a part of each other, in the totality called Creation, constantly changing and interacting. I am honored to do the best I can with what I have been given – this moment. It’s all I have. It’s all any of us have.
Then, all of the other “stuff” – the drama – gets added in, and I seek to navigate it as mindfully as possible, always keeping the basic understanding centered within. The balance acts as an anchor. The question arises: there are so many things to choose from (belief systems, religions, cosmologies, ideologies)… how do you decide what you will use for your anchor? what is your basic reference point? This is where I feel that place-based understanding, indigenous wisdom specific to the location where one finds oneself is the best choice (because those are the relationships within which you are a part, just then, whether you acknowledge them or not). And so, I seek to learn from the land, and from the people who know this land best, from intimate relationship with all of it for thousands of years. I look for those “original instructions.” This is how I will form my concept of identity…. I will identify with the place where I am. I am this place and this place is me. This is the essence of community, of being in relationship.
Bringing this around full circle, I will borrow a quote from Lisa Brook’s “Our Beloved Kin” which I just came across, reading the last chapter while on vacation in Maine (extracted from the discussion in pp. 339-342). This quote seems to embody the concept of seeking balance in the midst of tumult and influences pulling one way or another. During negotiations with the English during strife over land claims, with encroaching settlements and Native resistance, Wabanaki sagamores Moxus and Madoasquarbet express their desire (making their best choice) for stillness in the midst: “Our desire is to be quiet.” This speaks of balance. Finding the center. This, to me, is at the heart of me finding identity. If I can maintain that centeredness, to the best of my ability – making my choices to honor my relationships in place, in the present, to be quiet – I will best be myself.
And I must add, this is not about being as individualized as possible… far from it. The cult of the individual – the disease of separation which rules our modern Western society – is at the heart of our dysfunction and lack of relationship/community. It is estrangement and not at all life-affirming. When I recognize that I am a part of everything else, and start acting like it, I become who I was meant to be. And the corollary, I will then be best able to relate to all others around me. They will have to figure that balance out for themselves, of course, and bring it to the conversation. Some will be more coherent and collaborative, some will be agitated and discordant. That is the human story.
As a benchmark, I understand the gift of indigenous spiritual leaders, the medicine people, to be the highly developed ability to work with spirit to seek balance. They have great insight and understanding, and thus great responsibility to help their people. But, at the core, we all have those responsibilities, to all of our relations. It is not a religion, but a way of life. I am honored to do the best I can, always learning, always changing, because that is the way of Creation. Creation is a process, a totality, ongoing, not a point in time. There is no “time.”
Yesterday I realized a new way to understand the expression “We Are Still Here” – in Abenaki “Askwa n’daoldibna iodali”:  Be here. Be still. We are still, here.

Abenaki Who, When, Where and Some Whys

From Lisa Wheeler at The Conway Daily Sun:

Please join members of the the Freedom Historical Society at Camp Calumet Lakeside Facility on Wednesday, June 13, for a program at 7 p.m. entitled “Abenaki Who, When, Where and some Whys” presented by Paul W. Pouliot, grand council chief and principal speaker of the Pennacook-Abenaki People (Cowasuck Band). A graduate of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Pouliot is also a religious elder of the tribe, lecturer, Tribal Historian and Tribal Historical Protection Officer.

Pouliot’s grandparents were from mixed Wabanaki (Abenaki) and colonial French blood lines dating back into the early 1600s. His family migrated back and forth from Quebec to New England through the generations. As a youth, his father taught him of the ancestral roots of his grandmother and grandfather, both of whom were indigenous, and also taught him the ways of the woods and waters. Among his many accomplishments, Pouliot was a founding member of the New Hampshire Commission of Native American Affairs. The presentation is free and open to the public. For more information, call (603) 539-5799.

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.

At SIFF: Bearing Witness to Stories of ‘Cultural Genocide’

georgina sappier-richardson dawnland movie

To watch the documentary Dawnland is to experience having your stomach clenched in a knot. Native mothers weeping about having their children taken away from them; U.S. government policies stripping Native Americans of their culture; ‘reconciliation’ staffers fully aware of their white privilege but refusing to shelf it as they do cross-cultural work.

It’s all anguishing and infuriating to take in. It also makes Dawnland a powerfully illuminating film — a history lesson that you’re ashamed to have never learned but whose truths you’ll likely never forget.

Filmmakers Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip spent five years completing their feature-length documentary about the forced removal of Native American children from their families into White adoptive homes, non-Native foster care and boarding schools. The government’s racist intentions — clinically explained in historic footage included in the film — was to “civilize” Native youngsters. The legacy of such policies can be seen in the continued high rate of Native children in foster care and in the tortured memories of those who wanted to embrace their cultural identity but who were told, sometimes violently, that they must not.

Read the full article by Florangela Davila in Crosscut.

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.

The Art of the Wabanaki: Indian Market at the Abbe Museum

ransom_basket_cover abbe museum

The inaugural Abbe Museum Indian Market takes place in Bar Harbor May 18-20. The market will support Wabanaki artists and the local community. We’ll discuss the art of the Wabanaki, its effect on the local economy and learn about events taking place to celebrate the inaugural event.

Hear the podcast (47:12) on Maine Public Radio here.