Bangor Daily News
By Katherine Cassidy
Monday, June 28, 2004

St. Croix history commemorates role of Passamaquoddy Indians
Participants blend 17th century actions, 21st century politics

ST. ANDREWS, New Brunswick - Saturday's midmorning rain kept a Ste. Croix 2004 Celebration audience hovering under umbrellas, eager to see a re-enactment of the first meeting of the French explorers and Passamaquoddy Indians of 400 years ago.

But the pageantry did not take place, canceled by rain that did not let up for the 200 patient people who waited at Indian Point. Instead, as rain fell and the fog brought a chill, they listened to a Passamaquoddy elder, watched a pair of theatrical performances by a Passamaquoddy group largely from Sipayik, and heard the same group sing an Indian chant from 100 years ago.

On a day that was supposed to be largely about the Passamaquoddy Nation's past, two of the offerings from the stage carried contemporary political overtones.

First came Maynard Stanley, an elder who began by reading his notes about the earliest connections between Samuel de Champlain's settlers and the Passamaquoddy who greeted them at Quonasquamcook, present-day St. Andrews, on June 26, 1604.

"It all started here," he said, echoing the theme of the 10-day celebration that started Friday.

Then he spoke without notes of the 300 Passamaquoddy people who live in southwestern New Brunswick who are not recognized by the Canadian government. He asked a Passamaquoddy in the crowd to join him on the stage. She asked audience members to sign a petition and wear a button to "help our people."

Fliers were available that explained how the traditional territory of the Passamaquoddy First Nation was divided in 1842 by the imposed border between Maine and New Brunswick.

Quonasquamcook is the political center and capital of Passamaquoddy territory, the flier reads. It is "a place of worship, a traditional homeland and the location of their ceremonial burial ground."

"The Passamaquoddy people never gave up their rights to this land by signing a treaty, losing it in an act of war, nor have they sold it in any financial transaction. Therefore, by right, it is still their land!" the flier concludes.

Next on the stage were two performances by the Wabanaki Transformers' Theatre, an all-women's group that has developed at Pleasant Point, Maine, in the past three years.

Vera Francis, the group's leader, narrated the first piece, a combination of color, drums, dance, language, masks and movement. Each of the nine performers assumed the roles of characters representing both ancestors and the environment.

It was a gentle reminder of the Passamaquoddy's links to the land and their people who lived long ago. Then came a present-day, improvisational portrayal.

Members of the troupe assumed real-time characters who pretended to use cellular phones in the play. The play ended when the characters, heading for St. Andrews, were turned back from entering Canada at the border crossing in Calais.

Then Francis invited the audience to join them in an improvisational manner. Four came up on the stage to suggest ways, as the play was performed a second time, that the skit-ending situation among tribal members and border guards could be resolved.

Getting turned back at the border for a number of reasons is not uncommon today for the Passamaquoddy, Francis said.

Once finished with their real-life message, the group entertained with a traditional song.

The morning at Indian Point had begun at sunrise with Indian rituals.

Shortly after 5:30 a.m., a crowd encircled a bonfire and hoped the rain would hold off. They made way for two Passamaquoddy women who, wearing authentic dress, performed a welcoming ceremony.

Joan Dana and Blanche Sockabasin, both from Indian Township, moved slowly around the circle, clockwise, as digital cameras snapped - as did the bonfire. Dana carried a bowl of smoking sage, taking a moment with every individual to experience the moment and envelop themselves in the smoke.

Sockabasin followed, beating a deer-hide drum and chanting.

"This morning is very special for us, as we honor all the blessings we have received," Dana said when the ceremony was finished.

Hugh Akagi of St. Andrews, whom the Passamaquoddy recognize as their leader, explained the welcoming ritual to those who watched in silence.

Then he added a more personal part, bringing out a pouch of tobacco. Sprinkling bits in the fire, saying he was honoring his ancestors, he then invited some in the crowd to do the same.

Hermenegilde Chiasson, the lieutenant governor of New Brunswick, took the tobacco from Akagi, then passed it to John Craig, the mayor of St. Andrews. He in turn gave it to Norma Stewart, the Ste. Croix 2004 Celebration's executive director.

Others came forward to take part in the tradition.

Then came the rain as the fire burned down.

Back to Ste-Croix Home Page