Penobscot Nation drummers, dancers to perform Thursday in Bethel

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BETHEL — Members of the Penobscot Nation will conduct a drumming and dancing performance, and cultural exhibit Thursday, Oct. 23, at Gould Academy.

The Burnurwurbskek Drummers & Dancers will perform at 7 p.m. in Bingham Auditorium at 45 Church St. Tickets are $15. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

The performance will be preceded at 5 p.m. by a Micmac Basket Exhibit by Richard Siliboy in the foyer and in front of the stage in the auditorium.

The youngest of eight surviving children, Siliboy grew up speaking Micmac and still prays in his native language, a Mahoosuc Arts Council news release said.

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“He has chosen to keep the basket making tradition alive as part of his native culture as he does his language,” Aranka Matolcsy, executive director of the council, said Tuesday.

Baskets made by the Micmacs proved vital to the potato industry in Maine, the release said. There was a time in Aroostook County when potato harvesting was not mechanized.

Prior to the 1960s, potatoes were gathered by hand. The potato basket was an essential tool and the Silliboy family of Littleton was one of the Micmac families who handcrafted the potato baskets.

The core group of Burnurwurbskek Drummers & Dancers consists of Dean Francis, Nick Francis, Ron Bear, Bear’s two sons, Nick and Cree Bear, John Neptune, and brothers Rob and Barry Dana.

Traditionally hand and water drummers, they were introduced to the larger, western-style drum back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Matolcsy said.

Since then, they have been performing their traditional Penobscot and Wabanaki songs for audiences across Maine and many other states. Female dancers will also perform in traditional costumes.

“Since time immemorial, the Penawaskewi (Penobscot) along with their neighboring brothers and sisters —  collectively called the Wabanaki — have passed down their creation stories, traditional knowledge, heritage and songs to the subsequent generations,” she said.

Most of the songs to be performed by the Burnurwurbskek Singers originated from medicine- and individual vision-quest ceremonies, casual and formal gatherings, blessing ceremonies for the annual harvests and their corresponding moons, for their warriors going out to battle, hunters leaving for their family hunting grounds, and also honor songs for their mothers and children.

Matolcsy said the council can bring this group into its Mountain Arts Performance Series due to a Maine Community Foundation Arts Expansion grant awarded to the Mahoosuc Arts Council for a collaborative project with the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce in 2013.

It’s also the first such evening performance in the Bethel area and is aimed at removing racial stereotypes of Native Americans who lived in the area before and when Bethel was founded, Matolcsy said.

She credited chamber Executive Director Robin Zinchuk and Arla Patch with bringing the performance and cultural exhibit to fruition. Patch is an artist, teacher and volunteer for the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“We want to break down the stereotypes by bringing in real artists to engage the community,” Matolcsy said.

The efforts began with Bethel’s annual summer event, the MollyOckett Festival. It is named after MollyOckett, a Pequawket Indian who lived among and befriended the early settlers of Western Maine.

Following the performance, the Native Americans will be at two assemblies in the Telstar Junior/Senior High School gym on Friday, Oct. 24, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. That is also open to home-schoolers or students from private or charter schools and the public.

“We think this is just the first step in a long process of the community evolving to learn Native American culture,” Matolcsy said. “The drummers are incredibly generous and willing to engage and teach our community.”

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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