Waponahki Museum & Resource Center
59 Passamaquoddy Road, Perry
The Sipayik Cultural Committee of the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Native Americans manages this small museum at Pleasant Point. Native tools, baskets, beaded artifacts, and historic photos are on permanent display. Events, typically scheduled for the summer months, include demonstrations by local Passamaquoddy artisans, traditional dance, foods, and legends or storytelling. Passamaquoddy means “pollock fishing place,” and these fish continue to be an important tribal resource, along with porpoise, lobsters, scallops, clams, and alewives. The Passamaquoddy taught settlers how to fish using weirs in their unique double-curve design.
207.853.2600 | www.wabanaki.com/museum.htm
Seasonal/By appointment. Parking. Donation.
The Passamaquoddy Tribe is a member of the Wabanaki Confederacy, the People of the Dawn, which also includes the Penobscot, Maliseet, and Micmac tribes of Native Americans.
The Wabanaki were the first fishermen of Maine. Their ancestry in what is now eastern Maine and Atlantic Canada extends to the end of the last Ice Age some 12,000 years ago, when people entered the region in the wake of the melting glacier. As Joseph Neptune told it, “They [Indians from the south and west] kept coming they told the chief this is the place where we want to settle. Miglewak – Paradise. When they reached Paradise there’s everything here, all kinds of flowers, all kinds of fish, all kinds of game. ‘Pemsquodek.’”
“Pemsquodek” or Passamaquoddy means bay where pollock are plentiful. Many of the names for places in Downeast Maine originated with the Wabanaki. “Cobscook” means at the waterfalls, in reference to the dramatic tidal flows. Pembroke is punamuhkatik, the place where tomcod (frostfish) are caught. The names are evidence that Maine’s native inhabitants have a long relationship with the sea. They taught the settlers how to fish using weirs in their unique double-curve design.
Encroachment on Passamaquoddy land by Europeans in the nineteenth century forced Native families to intensify their efforts in obtaining subsistence from the sea. In hard times, many Passamquoddy families depended on fish to survive the winter, drying pollock, cod, and flounder and salting herring in barrels.
Tribal member Wayne Newell recalled similar times in the 20th century:
“I started to fish when I was twelve years old or so. My mother would send me and my younger brother out to fish for dinner. We didn’t have a boat, but we would use one that belonged to someone else, that was understood to be ok, as long as you took care of the boat and put it back where it belonged. I learned how to catch flounder just by being down along the shore and watching. I remember too just taking a pan down to the beach when the whales would come into the bay and chase the fish towards the shore. We would gather them from the beach, or someone would stand in the shallows and toss fish onto the beach. Flounder was a stable food for us. Haddock and pollock were the prize fish. Cod was the last choice, but it would be used for a stew, often cooked with heads and all.”
The Passamaquoddy were also integral to the commercial herring industry. In addition to operating their own fish weirs and working in the fish factories, they made “fish baskets,” a standard industry measure used to move herring from boats to the factories. “Sardine baskets” had a square bottom and round top. “Scale baskets” held fish scales for the manufacture of pearlescence, an irridescent substance used in nail polish, buttons, and fake pearls. These were heavy-duty, ash baskets that could withstand repeated soaking and intensive use.
More colorful “fancy baskets,” incorporate naturally scented sweetgrass in the design. Basketmaking is a strong and vibrant art. http://www.maineindianbaskets.org/
Wayne Newell, again:
“Our culture has a special reverence for fish…It is difficult to express in English what our Passamaquoddy name for haddock says. It refers to the markings at the haddock’s head. Literally, I suppose the word means ‘picked up by,’ or the imprint left when something has been picked up. Implicit in the word, partly from the intonation when it is spoken, is that the markings show that the fish was picked up by the hand of the creator, a remind that the fish are given to us by the creator.”
Activities & Events
Indian Day, a cultural celebration (always the second Saturday in August).
Learn more native words at the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Language Portal.
Drive north on Route 1 to visit the Passamaquoddy Cultural Heritage Museum in Indian Township.
Sources & Links
Neptune, Joseph. 1942. History of Passamaquoddy Bay (manuscript). Pleasant Point, Perry, ME.
Soctomah, Donald. 2002. Passamaquoddy at the Turn of the Century 1890-1920 Tribal Life and Times in Maine and New Brunwsick. Indian Township, ME: Passamaquoddy Tribe.
Soctomah, Donald. 2003. Hard Times at Passamaquoddy 1921-1950 Tribal Life and Times in Maine and New Brunwsick. Indian Township, ME: Passamaquoddy Tribe.
Stevens, Susan MacCullough. 1973. Passamaquoddy Economic Development in Cultural and Historical Perspective. Mount Vernon, ME: Department of Indian Affairs.