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Program 8: People of the Dawn

TRANSCRIPT of PEOPLE OF THE DAWN

Narrator:

During the following program, look for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network web markers which lead you to more information on our web site.

Maine's four Indian tribes have occupied the region for thousands of years. The last 400 are marked by struggle, as disease, warfare and erosion of tribal traditions have jeopardized their survival. Today, the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Maliseet and Micmac are all in a period of cultural renaissance. How did they reach this point?

The history of Maine's native people coming up next on HOME: The Story of Maine.

Barry Dana - Chief of Penobscot Tribe:

When you learn the process of making the birch-bark canoe, there's very little today that's different, in terms of process that was done for thousands of years. Materials are identical, the final construction is identical, the process of doing the roots, the pitch, taking the bark off the tree, carving the cedar, everything is identical. Not only the design in the canoe itself but the paddling techniques. You know if you go down over a drop and if you lift your paddle out of the water you become unstable. Well, some of the old timers never took the paddle out of the water. So, if you never taken the paddle out of the water you've always got a point of stability. I love talking to the old timer's about paddling, 'cause no matter how good I get there's something they know, they're always one step ahead of me.

Narrator:

The birch bark canoe is a symbol of heritage for all four of Maine's native Wabanaki tribes: the Penobscots, Passamaquoddys, Micmacs and Maliseets. All, at one time, made distinctive boats from the plentiful birch tree. The history of these native people dates back nearly 12 thousand years-long before the first canoe was crafted. Geological evidence shows that 14-thousand years ago Maine was covered in a sheet of ice one-mile thick. As the ice retreated, water filled the landscape, creating a jagged coastline many miles inland from where it is today. The terrain bounced upward as the massive weight of the glacier lifted. Arctic tundra began to appear on the previously submerged land, followed by a mix of shrubbery and softwoods- willow, and alder. Then a more diverse forest, with hardier trees like birch, elm, and spruce, began to grow, first in what is now Southern Maine. As the climate warmed, these species spread north and all of Maine became an environment where plants, animals, and humans could thrive.

David Sanger - University of Maine Archeologist:

The evidence will suggest that people came in at about 11,000 years ago and what we call the Paleo-Indian period and they probably came in from the south and perhaps a little bit to the west. We don't know a lot about these people except they had a way of making stone tools, which is very similar from coast to coast. And some people have suggested that what that indicates is that they were a people who moved very rapidly across the continent and into Maine. These people needed very high quality, flint like rock in order to make their tools. A major source of this was up Munsungan Lake and that helps to identify that particular period. The late Paleo-Indian gives way somewhere around 9,500 years ago we start the Archaic period, which is a totally different technology. Instead of making all of their stone tools by chipping them into shape, they now made their stone tools by a combination of chipping them and also a technique we call pecking where you remove little pieces from a big piece of rock with a hammer stone, and then finish up the tool by grinding it into shape and polishing it. There're also some changes going on in the Gulf of Maine that really influence our story. It becomes more biologically productive through time and of course that's going to influence people because they are living off the resources there. We see that people were taking shellfish, clams, quahogs, mussels. They were taking finned-fish like cod and they were going out a little bit into the Gulf to harpoon swordfish.

Narrator:

This maritime culture did not last-on this point archeologists agree. But there is a difference of opinion on whether this Archaic civilization, so proficient on the water, was distinct from the people who preceded them, or if they belonged to the same group of Paleo-Indian people who moved from the interior of Maine and adapted to life on the coast. No written record exists for this early period. Those interpreting the history are left to draw conclusions from stone tools, spear points and other data surviving through the millennia.

John Bear Mitchell - Director of University of Maine's Wabanaki Center & Penobscot tribe member:

The archeological evidence goes back 11,000 years ago. Our stories go back about that far when we start looking at what our stories tell us about the certain land formations that actually don't exist any more that we find really do exist scientifically now. We find they're existing under water.

Sanger:

The problem with the Gulf of Maine archaeology is that any Paleo-Indian or early archaic people living out there would now have their sites submerged by 180 feet, or more, of water. And scallop-draggers have found a few artifacts in nets and brought them up.

Mitchell:

The creator is just what we call in our language chemitux or cachinuesk which means the creator of all, or the father of all. And when he created the earth which would give people and animals a place to live, that's when Gluskabe was created.

Narrator:

In addition to descriptions of the landscape, each Wabanaki oral history contains a common character...Glooskap, the prophet in each group's story of creation.

Mitchell:

Gluskabe then took a bow and an arrow and shot it into a brown ash tree. The brown ash tree split and out from that tree came the women and the children. People came from there.

Bernard Jerome - Cultural Director Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians:

We all certainly have different interpretations, different beliefs, different cultures. In our case there has been several creation stories written. Stories written about Glooscap our prophet. What has been told to us by some of our elders is that the, Grandfather Sun coupled with the, Grandmother Moon and a beam of light reflected to Mother Earth and that's how all life began.

Edward Bassett - Traditional Birch Bark Canoe Maker & Member of Passamaquoddy Tribe:

Glooscap had special powers, had special abilities and a lot of knowledge. His purpose was to teach and enlighten. To him mankind was precious.

Fred Tomah - Basketmaker & Member of Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians:

But Glooscap to me lives in Mount Katahdin, that's his wigwam. Wigwam being his home. He's a big spirit and that's the reason why he requires something so big.

Narrator:

Maine's archeological record is enhanced by written history beginning 400 years ago when European explorers first surveyed the region. French sailor Samuel de Champlain provided the most detail. He produced a thorough map of the coastline and major rivers in 1605. His work included drawings and diagrams of the people he met. To the Europeans documenting life at that time, it became clear that tribal divisions existed among the native people they encountered. The present day Wabanaki are descended from these tribes.

Bruce Bourque - Maine State Museum Chief Archaeologist & Bates College Professor of Archeology:

We eventually get these tribes emerging, the ones who we now call the Wabanaki tribes, the Penobscots, the Passamaquoddy, the Maliseets and the Micmac. How did they connect with the groups that these French sources described? And the answer is pretty clearly the Micmac descend from the Souriquois. Almost equally clearly the Maliseet descend from a group that Champlain would call Etchemin. Somewhat less clearly, but it's emerging I think to be the truth. That there was a group the French called Canibas and they lived in the same area that formerly was occupied by the western most Etchemin. Those who lived west of the Kennebec either joined with those groups or moved up to Quebec. So that the western part of the state has no resident tribal entity.

Mitchell:

When we look back as far as Wabanaki people go, we always moved among each other. It wasn't until historical times that we started becoming the Maliseets, the Micmacs, the Penobscots and the Passamaquoddys. After we were labeled with tribal names, and borders were drawn, state lines were drawn, provincial lines were drawn, we were kind of forced into a certain group or a certain category. We believe that we just are part of all these different tribes way, way back. But we've kind of settled into who we are now through the tribe we're labeled with. If you take the place names of Maine and understand that they're an interpretation either a French interpretation or an English interpretation of a native word, they're a little skewed in how we say them, but not in what they mean. For instance, the tribe, the Penobscot tribe. Penobscot came out of a word Panawahpskek. Panawahpskek means 'the village where the rocks come out of the water.' And what that does by describing where we lived it became our identity of who we were.

Narrator:

The French, when they came to Maine, tended to trade with the Indians. But the English were settlers, with visions of re-creating the life they knew in England. The French and Indians relied on each other, enjoying a better relationship, for the most part, while the English were crowding the Indians off their land.

Mitchell:

We don't have a lot of good stories about our relationship with the English. We have a lot more stories that kind of talk about better relationships with the French. Although there were some things that happened among the native tribes and the French that were not always good.

Mitchell:

The English came to this area with an idea that they were gonna build the same kind of houses that they lived over in Europe in. Bring their animals with them and start a new village in that respect. And a lot of the villages that they did this under were not successful at all because resources were not, they were scarce first of all. Sometimes they'd bring over animals and they'd get sick along the way and they'd have to kill those animals and eat those animals or take the milk from those animals that were sick. They themselves became sick and sometimes died from that. Now the French what they did for the most part was they tended to come over here and live with us, learn our language, learn our ways as far as hunting and fishing. Lived in the same kind of lodges we lived in. They looked at it like this: if the native people have lived in these lodges for this amount time, which they deemed a long time, and survived that long, then they've got to be doing something right. So, let's adopt that style of living and let them teach us what we need to learn in order to survive.

Bourque:

You have to understand that the French King didn't want his subjects to leave France. He wasn't encouraging this. He never encouraged women to come. So as a result the French settlements tended to be male dominated. There's a lot of intermarriage with natives. They tended to be quite small in population. The English were casting off surplus populations at a relatively huge rate. And so the English who came here came to settle in fairly large numbers.

Narrator:

Soon after the Europeans began moving in, large numbers of native people died at an alarming rate. Some estimates show that ninety percent of Maine's Indians were lost to European disease in the 1600's.

Bourque:

Europeans had an old-world suite of diseases that had evolved there because humans in the old world lived close by with their animals. And almost all these major epidemic acute diseases derived from animal hosts. So not only did Europeans have these diseases, they had immunity to the diseases. Natives on the other hand had never dealt much with domestic animals and had none of these kinds of diseases, also no resistance to them. So the diseases swept through whole communities, sometimes killing everyone and just devastated the population.

Jerome:

We didn't have the medicines that, that could help us with the epidemics.

Mitchell:

We know that small pox killed off a good number, a majority of our people. It's, it's one of our blackest moments in our history. It's equivalent to a holocaust, an American holocaust when it happened on this soil.

Narrator:

This decimation of the native population, which happened between 1616 and 1619, is known as the Great Dying. Disease was not the only threat to the survival of Maine's Wabanaki people. Their reduced numbers encouraged invasions by the western Mohawk Indians who wanted to dominate trade with the Europeans. Maine Wabanaki sought protection from the raiding Mohawk in the form of alliances with the European newcomers. The natives granted land deeds to the English in a short-lived period of friendship. Hostilities in the region shifted quickly from native tribes fighting each other, to war between the English and the Indians.

Bourque:

King Phillip's War began in Massachusetts. Indians simply getting crowded off their lands and spread to Maine because refugees from the theater of war in Massachusetts who came and stirred up the young men in the communities of Maine. There were also some pretty atrocious incidents that really were the cause of the war in Maine. There's a chief named Squando around Saco whose child was drowned in an overturned canoe, overturned by some British seamen.

Mitchell:

The relationship became very negative, very territorial and we had the upper hand at first.

Bourque:

The English settlements were vulnerable and quickly abandoned under native attack. From Wells west they survived, from Wells east they didn't survive.

Mitchell:

We definitely were at a disadvantage later on. We were weakened by sickness and disease and the inability to gather food and hunt. When you cut off somebody's food supply, when you cut off somebody's survival, you cut them off too, eventually.

Narrator:

A decade of peace in the region followed the end of King Phillip's War in 1678. This would be the longest stretch of accord between the Wabanaki and their new neighbors- five major skirmishes broke out in the next century. These Frontier wars continued until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. All of these conflicts were the result, not of issues dividing the natives and Europeans, but of those dividing England and France. Warfare spilled over into the North American colonies, entangling Maine's Indians in the process.

Mitchell:

The reason why native people were involved was because we were so knowledgeable about the terrain, the portages, the pathways and how to get from one point to another. So we were kind of like the scouts and that was pretty much our involvement in the war, although we did fight in part of it. That wasn't our main, our main intention. After the French and Indian Wars were over I guess the result pretty much was almost an admission that we had no ability to fight anymore, no more drive because we were just too tired, too weak, too small in our food supply. And we had to start taking on some of their ways in order to survive. Realized probably about that time, it was probably the turning point for realization in that we couldn't survive like we had done for hundreds and thousands of years before that. We now had to adopt a different way of living, a different style, a different method and we did.

Bourque:

Now you have English settlers not just farmers, the English settlers want to trap and to hunt and this really threatens the natives and they continuously petition the government, you know, we only have our hunting grounds left and the English are coming to them and they're taking our game. Please don't let them do this. And to be honest with you Massachusetts did it's best. It passed laws prohibiting anyone east of Saco from hunting. But you can pass the law. You can't enforce it on the frontier and so these troubles continued. But they never quite erupted into war again. There were periods of tension up to about the American Revolution and after that the Indians are just sort of embedded in a sea of new settlers. And the natives began to fit into a new kind of economy that was growing up around them. They began to be guides. I mean you know, the laying out of the Maine woods for timber or for settlement. Downeast the fishing industry and eventually agriculture absorbed some of the Passamaquoddys. They began making equipment for these activities, baskets for farmers and for fishermen both.

Narrator:

Congress, in an effort to help Native people preserve their culture, passed the "Indian Nonintercourse Act" in 1790 prohibiting the sale of any Indian lands without the approval of the U.S. government. Despite this Federal statute, the State of Maine acquired land from the Penobscots in 1818 and 1833.

Mitchell:

Having our land base, or resources, continuously shrinking we needed to find other ways of surviving. So trade became very important. Europeans brought over all these cool things: metal knives, cooking pans-you didn't have to worry about breaking clay pots anymore, you didn't have to worry about breaking your knife (stone knives) anymore, or using scallop shells to cut things with anymore. You had a clean, easy-to-carry knife. So we wanted these things. Some of the things that were traded were beads, furs, we would trade birch-bark baskets, sweet-grass baskets, brown-ash baskets and we would trade those for something that would make our life easier.

Narrator:

Another ancient skill preserved by Maine's Wabanaki is the meticulous construction of the birchbark canoe. Built using the same methods perfected thousands of years ago, these boats are uniquely suited for the various waterways of coastal and interior Maine. So, it's no surprise that there are many different styles.

Dana:

I can only imagine that each Penobscot family had two to three different canoes and maybe stashed them at different bodies of water. You know if you're on Moosehead Lake or if you're along the ocean you need a very wide canoe that is stable can take those big waves. If you're on a small stream that's twisty and shallow you need a shorter canoe. And there's the river canoe which has to have a touch of all that. So there's all kinds of considerations, you know, how big is your family? Is it a hunting canoe or a travelling canoe?

Cayard:

These are mostly pretty good sizes for, um, what we're doing now, the sewing.

Dana:

What was really interesting last summer was we put together a birch bark canoe class and we had a master teacher, Steve Cayard, come and work with us.

Cayard:

But on these ones with the natural division somewhere down the middle, you just split it on that natural seam.

Dana:

Our concern in setting the class up is that we would get enough people dedicated to see it through from start to finish. Ten turned to twelve and then fifteen and then after a while we had consistently everyday having oh, 30 or 40 people sitting around telling old stories, laughing and bringing food. So, this revival aspect of the birch bark canoe meant more to the people of the Penobscot tribe...it meant more than just the physical learning of the process of building it. It meant we're bringing back part of our culture and we're connecting with thousands of years of our traditions. It was pretty special.

Narrator:

The reawakening of Maine's rich Wabanaki culture began inside the tribes more than two centuries ago. But, it wasn't until much later that the state of Maine began to promote the preservation of Wabanaki tradition. In 1794 the Passamaquoddy tribe negotiated a treaty with the state of Massachusetts, setting aside 6000 acres of land. By the mid-1960's most of that land was gone...sold off by Maine without tribal input. And, as hard as it is to imagine today, Maine's Indians did not achieve the right to vote in state elections until 1967. Shortly thereafter, Native activists began the process of reclaiming their ancestral lands. This culminated in the passage of the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act in 1980, granting Federal recognition and millions of dollars to Maine's tribes. This eventually allowed all four Wabanaki tribes to rejuvenate their culture for future generations.

Bassett:

Federal recognition has helped in a lot of areas. People aren't living in poverty. We have housing. We have federal dollars that come in to help with organizing and structuring tribal government, helping run programs. Education benefits are there.

Jerome:

It has come a long way in a very short time. But it was never easy. We are a very resilient people and we have survived just about anything humanly possible. We're also paving a way for our children, our grandchildren so they won't have it as tough.

Dana:

The tribe, especially with the elders and some of the more spiritually-minded, they'll smile when you ask them about the fear of losing our culture. Some of them will just smile and say "you can't lose it it's always there. It's just a matter of you taking it and bringing it back."

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MORE CREATION STORIES | EARLY RACE RELATIONS | INDIAN NON-INTERCOURSE ACT | RECENT HISTORY | FEATURED INTERVIEWS | TRANSCRIPT | NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURE


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