Passamaquoddy historian Donald Soctomah is busy writing books about his tribe.

Passamaquoddy are known as Sipayik — meaning “along the edge” — and People of the Dawn. Their ancient tribal history is documented by artifacts found in Down East Maine, New Brunswick and Maritime Canada.

Some ancient Passamaquoddy ancestors may have lived 5,000 years ago in the Ellsworth area. Archaeologists call this particular tribe the Red Paint People.

French-Canadians and Passamaquoddy shared their culture through intermarriage and Christianity. Soctomah says many Passamaquoddy families have French surnames.

It took Soctomah five years to research and compose a detailed chronology of the oral histories documenting significant tribal events for “Save the Land for the Children, 1800-1850: Passsamaquoddy Tribal Life and Times in Maine and New Brunswick.” It’s a compilation containing 50 years of tribal history not easily found in ordinary textbooks.

Hundreds of anecdotes and historical data are included in the chronology.

Written like diary entries, they describe the daily life of the early 19th century Passamaquoddy. Soctomah chronicles the tribe’s relations with the Canadians, the U.S. government, the king of England and various religious leaders. One particular encounter documented on Jan. 2, 1830, describes a meeting between a tribal representative and President Andrew Jackson.

American and Passamaquoddy histories intersected after the Revolutionary War when the boundary between New Brunswick and Maine was a heavily forested no man’s land.

Soctomah says 1800 to 1850 was a time of rapid changes for the Passamaquoddy. They lived on both sides of the St. Croix River on the international border between Calais and New Brunswick. Both the United States and Canada were expanding land settlements, which ultimately led to border disputes. As a result, land around the Passamaquoddy settlements was given to Revolutionary War veterans as a way of protecting each country’s border. The Passamaquoddy strongly petitioned to save their land to protect their children’s future.

“Passamaquoddy were caught right in the middle of the boundary conflict,” writes Soctomah. This dispute was eventually settled by the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which followed the tensions of 1838-39, called the undeclared Aroostook War.

Meanwhile, the loss of tribal land was complicated by a political rift within the Passamaquoddy in 1834, following the death of Chief Francis Joseph Neptune. Although a tradition of hereditary leadership was practiced, this custom was in conflict with the government’s position in favor of an election process.

In 1852, a treaty was signed between the two tribal powers. They established another village upriver from Pleasant Point in an area known as Indian Township, on the site of an ancient summer village. Tribal governors are now elected chief administrators for each of the communities.

Dozens of tribal traditions are described by Soctomah. A Jan. 1, 1801, entry describes the sacred ritual of bear hunting. Only special tribesmen were permitted to hunt bear. These select hunters were men considered to be “nearly perfect.”

Soctomah provides detailed descriptions of Passamaquoddy customs, songs, clothing, funeral rituals and their interaction with their environment. “Save the Land for the Children” is a cultural tribute to the perseverance of the Passamaquoddy people and how they contributed to Maine’s history.

Soctomah, 55, was born in Eastport just outside of the Passamaquoddy reservation at Pleasant Point. His parents were Passamaquoddy. Sactomah is the tribe’s representative to the Maine Legislature.

He co-authored “Remember Me: Tomah Joseph’s Gift to Franklin Roosevelt,” with Jean Flahive and illustrator Mary Beth Owens.

Passamaquoddy information is available at www.wabanaki.com and www.passamaquoddy.com.

Soctomah’s books are available at the Maine Historical Society.

 

Juliana L’Heureux can be contacted at: [email protected]