Starr Kelly, the director of education and exhibits at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, right, and Mi’kmaq artist Max Romero Sanipass look at the basket-weaving section of the new exhibit Sunday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

On Monday, Indigenous Peoples Day, a new exhibit opens at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine to honor and educate visitors about Wabanaki art, song and way of life.

The exhibit, titled “Ckuwaponahkiyik Atkuhkakonol: Wabanaki Storytelling Through Art and Traditions,” explores the Wabanaki people, who have thrived in Maine for more than 12,000 years, said Starr Kelly, the museum’s director of education and exhibits.

The hands-on exhibit was developed with Wabanaki artists and features “Wabanaki people sharing their stories,” Kelly said.

Sculptor Tim Shay of the Penobscot Nation said the exhibit shows who they are, and that “we’re still here as a people, in spite of all that has happened on this land.”

The Wabanaki population throughout Maine is about 8,700, comprising four tribes – the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Mi’kmaq.

The new outdoor exhibit features three sections. One includes hand-carved benches in a circle to encourage children to come together. The three cedar benches were carved by Shay in his Indian Island studio. One bench has the carved face of a “singing grandmother.” On another bench is a hand-carved turtle, and another features an eagle – all images special to the Wabanaki people of Maine.


Nearby are oversized basket molds where children can practice weaving. That part of the exhibit was developed with Max Romero Sanipass of Portland, an artist and a basket maker from the Mi’kmaq Nation near Presque Isle. Sanipass comes from a family of basket makers. His grandparents were Donald and Mary Sanipass, well-known basket makers. Near the basket molds is a panel with the artist’s photo and information about the importance of basket making.

The third section of the exhibit is a round music house where children can hear Wabanaki music created by Dwayne Tomah, a Passamaquoddy cultural preservationist who focuses on Wabanaki music. In the round house, Tomah created a space that connects story, song and landscape, including an interactive map where children can move a canoe on a map of a river, Kelly said. When the canoe is moved to a stop on the river map, it activates a different song sung by Tomah.

The five songs are: “A Welcome Song” used during gatherings; the “Humble Song” about honoring the creation of family, animals, water and other parts of the natural world; the “Snake Dance” about bringing people together; “The Death of a Chief,” sung when a community unites to mourn; and “The Skutik’s Song,” about appreciating and hearing the voices of the river.

The exhibit also shows photos of the Wabanaki artists who helped create the exhibit, as well as work by Maliseet artist Emma Hassencahl-Perley.

During an interview on Sunday, Shay said he’s pleased with the new exhibit, especially that it’s geared toward children. “It’s going to educate the youth about who originates from this place – our long, long history of existing on this land,” he said. “They are the future leaders, the doctors, lawyers, all of that.”

The story of Native Americans is an essential piece of our nation’s history that needs to be told, Shay said. “That’s really the bottom line,” he said. “We can’t sugarcoat” by leaving out how Indigenious people were displaced, abused and killed by European settlers. “In terms of our culture and who we are, we come from right here,” Shay said. “We’re still here in our traditional homeland. They stole our land,” he said, adding that the Wabanaki have a different perspective of what it means to own land.


Owning land is an illusion and is wrong, he said. “No, we’re a guest here, and we need to act accordingly.”

Shay said that humans “are like fleas on a dog,” and the dog is the earth. If people don’t pay attention soon and stop polluting the planet, that dog will shake, “and we’re going to get shaken off,” Shay said. “That’s the way I think.”

Tomah said the exhibit is a good starting point for future conversations and learning. The reason that education is key, Tomah said, is that the stories and culture of the Wabanaki people are in danger of being forgotten. Talking and teaching traditions will help ensure “we are not being written out of history.”

Offering the new exhibit is the kind of work, a more inclusive thinking, that all institutions should be doing, Kelly said. “We should be normalizing opening up our spaces for Wabanaki people to share their stories.” Maine is a colonial word used to distinguish the state border, she said, “but we live on Wabanaki land. Wabanaki people have been here for 12,000 years, and Maine has only been in existence for 200 years.”

On Monday, there will be festivities on the opening day, including appearances by some of the artists. Weather permitting, the Burnurwurbskek Singers of the Penobscot Nation, a drum group, will perform traditional and contemporary compositions on the museum’s front lawn from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

The museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday. Visitors will need to make reservations at

Only adults with children will be admitted, Kelly said. The new exhibit will be a part of the permanent offerings, she said.

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