Passamaquoddy (Native Americans of the Northeast Woodlands)

Passamaquoddytmp2024_thumb, "those who pursue the pollack" or "pollack-spearing place." Together with the Maliseet, they have also been known as the Etchemin tribe. See also Abenaki; Maliseet; Penobscot.

Location The traditional location of the Passamaquoddy is in the vicinity of Passamaquoddy Bay and the St. Croix River. Many contemporary Passamaquoddys also live on the Penobscot Reservation at Old Town, Maine, as well as in industrial centers of New England.

Population With the Maliseet, their population reached about 1,000 in the early seventeenth century. There were approximately 2,500 tribal members in the early 1990s.

Language Maliseets and Passamaquoddys spoke dialects of the same Algonquian language.

Historical Information

History The Passamaquoddy may once have been united with the Maliseet. First contact with non-natives probably occurred with Samuel de Champlain in the early seventeenth century, although the people may have met fishermen from northern and western Europe as much as a century earlier.

With their growing involvement in the French fur trade, the people soon became dependent on items of non-native manufacture. They also accepted Catholic missionaries. Their population declined severely throughout the eighteenth century, owing to disease, abuse of alcohol, and loss of land.

They joined the pro-French Abenaki Confederacy in the mid-eighteenth century. Many Passamaquoddys married French men and women. By the late eighteenth century, British settlers had pushed them out of many of their best subsistence areas, and the traditional annual round of subsistence activites had been seriously disrupted. The state of Massachusetts set aside 23,000 acres of land for them in 1794 as part of a treaty never ratified by the federal government. The two reservations were founded around 1850 by competing political factions, the "progressive" one based at Sipayik and the conservatives at Motahkokmikuk.

In the mid- to late nineteenth century, many Passamaquoddys worked in sea-related industries and as farmers, loggers, and guides. They also worked as migrant laborers (potatoes, blueberries) and made baskets, paddles, moccasins, and other items for sale to the tourist trade. Both reservations became enclaves of poverty in a poor region, and by the 1960s many Indians had left to pursue economic opportunities elsewhere. During World War II, the government used part of Indian Township as a German prisoner of war camp; this land was later sold to non-natives. This and other such actions ignited the native rights struggle in Maine and led ultimately to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act.

With their growing involvement in the French fur trade, the Passamaquoddy soon became dependent on items of non-native manufacture. They also accepted Catholic missionaries. Pictured here are three Maine Indians with a Jesuit priest.

With their growing involvement in the French fur trade, the Passamaquoddy soon became dependent on items of non-native manufacture. They also accepted Catholic missionaries. Pictured here are three Maine Indians with a Jesuit priest.

Religion Guardian spirits, acquired through vision quests, gave shamans the power to cure and regular people the ability to protect subsistence areas from trespass. Shamans cured by chanting, blowing, and possibly sucking. Sweat lodges were also associated with spiritual power. Any number of supernatural beings included Kuloscap, the culture hero. Dances were mainly associated with spiritual power.

Government Skilled hunters provided local leadership. The people recognized a supreme hereditary chief in the seventeenth century who lived at the main village. The last such chief died in the 1870s. Leadership became more formalized under the confederacy, with graduated civil offices and a war chief. The people remained part of the Abenaki Confederacy from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid- to late nineteenth century, when the confederacy ceased to exist.

Customs The people came together in large villages in summer and dispersed into small hunting camps in winter. They preferred football, a kicking game, to lacrosse. They also enjoyed any number of dice gambling games.

Men served their prospective in-laws for at least a year before marriage. During that period, the woman made the man’s clothing and footgear. Weddings were marked by feasting and oratory recognizing the groom’s ancestry. At least after contact, sexual mores were strict, and divorce was rare. Children were generally treated gently and with a high degree of freedom, at least when compared with the region’s early French. Boys could sit in council with the older men after killing their first moose. When death was expected, it was sometimes hastened by pouring cold water on the victim, who may also have been buried alive. Herb doctors could be men or women.

Dwellings Summer villages were sometimes palisaded. They included multi- and single-family dwellings. The former were conical pole-frame wigwams covered with birch bark; the latter as well as council houses were rectangular log-frame structures with birch-bark roofs. Council houses could hold up to 100 people.

Diet Farming, especially of corn, was the key economic activity. Harvested corn was stored and taken on the winter hunts. There was some hunting of inland animals such as moose, bear, otter, and muskrat. More important was the capture of marine animals such as seal and porpoise. The people also ate stranded whales as well as other marine foods, including lobster, shellfish, and sea birds and their eggs. Marine mammals were hunted in canoe teams. They also fished for salmon, bass, and sturgeon and gathered wild grapes, roots, and fiddlehead ferns. Maple sugaring may have predated contact with non-natives.

Key Technology Fish were generally speared. Corn was stored in bark-lined pits. Various birch-bark items included canoes, containers, baskets, dishes, and boxes. Some were decorated with porcupine quills. Cordage came from spruce roots or cedar bark. The crooked knife was an important woodworking tool. The people also made a birch-bark moose call.

Trade Locally traded goods included birch-bark items, corn, and shells. They also exported porpoise and seal oil and skins.

Notable Arts Clothing and other items were decorated with porcupine quill embroidery. The people made excellent ash-splint baskets and beadwork from the eighteenth century on.

Transportation Lightweight canoes were made of birch bark, moose hide, or spruce bark. Snowshoes were worn in winter.

Dress Clothing was made from skins. Beaverskin caps shielded people’s heads from the cold. They also wore temporary birch-bark raincoats.

War and Weapons War chiefs existed at least from the eighteenth century on. This position was never inherited or elected. The war chief could attract followers for raids.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations The Pleasant Point State Reservation is home to Sipayik, the main Passamaquoddy village since 1770. Population in the early 1990s was about 560 people. The reservation consists of about 225 acres in Washington County, Maine.

Indian Township State Reservation is the site of the town of Motahkokmikuk, population about 550 in the early 1990s. The town has two distinct neighborhoods: Peter Dana Point and the Strip. The reservation contains about 23,000 acres on the Schoodic Lakes in Maine.

The tribe also owns over 130,000 acres of trust land in Maine. Each reservation elects a government that includes a six-member council. A joint tribal council is led by the governors of both reservations. In addition, each reservation alternately selects a representative to the state legislature.

Economy The tribe sold a cement plant for a $60 million profit in 1988. It has also invested in a blueberry farm and owns a high-stakes bingo establishment, media outlets, several small businesses, and a patent for a coal-emissions scrubber. The tribe itself is the largest employer of Passamaquoddy Indians. Tribal members receive quarterly per capita payments.

Legal Status The Passamaquoddys are a federally recognized tribal entity. In 1981, they and the Penobscots (and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians) settled a landmark federal and state land claims case against the state of Maine. The Indians won millions of dollars with which they purchased 150,000 acres as trust land. They also gained a unique status as both a federally recognized tribe and a municipality.

Daily Life Tribal facilities include many new buildings, such as offices, schools, homes, and a museum. The people enjoy free health care. The native language is falling into disuse, with most speakers among the older population. It is taught in school, as are traditional crafts and tribal history. Alcoholism, high unemployment, and anti-Indian prejudice are obstacles that remain to be fully conquered. Most Passamaquoddys are Catholic. The tribe holds an annual festival.

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