(…I noted the landmark change with a series of personal reflections)

 

If you were like most Mainers, I suspect you hardly noticed the fact that last April,  Governor Janet Mills signed the legislation changing Columbus Day (named after an Italian explorer who thought he had reached his goal, India or perhaps China, instead of a small island in the Bahamas that really isn’t part of the North American continent) to one that gives long overdue recognition to the real first human inhabitants of Maine and North America in general…its “indigenous people”, or those who lived in a particular locality since before recorded history.

We have now joined dozens of cities and a handful of states, that recognize that many misunderstandings regarding our (and that of Canada while we are at it) national histories need a number of revisions in the name of truth and accuracy.

In North America, that would be the many tribes and peoples whose unrecorded history, (other than what human bones anthropologists have dug up, and dated, all over the continent), that can be traced to the humans that originally evolved over tens of thousands of years ago in east Africa and eventually crossed over the ice bridge (or perhaps land bridge) from northeast Asia (today’s Russian Siberia) to northwest North America (today’s Alaska) thousands of years ago.

In recent decades, increased understandings have come about regarding the true, (and not very complimentary or respectful), story of how Europeans subdued our continent’s indigenous peoples for their own selfish gains.  As I see it, our European ancestors could have been much, much nicer in how our “original racism” played out over the past 500 years or so at the expense of the indigenous peoples (long since mistakenly known as “indians” thanks to Columbus’ initial excitement when he thought he had reached India and the far east, by sailing west).

Regarding my series of personal reflections of, and sometimes interactions with, the original inhabitants of our continent, I go back to first grade, in the city of my birth, Great Falls, Montana.  While living there through the third grade, I became friends with a number of indigenous (I am making an effort to use the the new, and much more accurate terminology) students who attended Benjamin Franklin (a truly fine, and very smart, man of European ancestry) Elementary School in Great Falls.  Most of them lived in the town of Black Eagle on the other side of the Missouri River, that included the large copper smelting operation that undoubtedly polluted the air and water of Black Eagle…but not so much Great Falls thanks to the prevailing winds out of the west and the easterly flowing river.

These kids were members of the Blackfeet tribe, a northern plains people whose bison-hunting skills were legendary, and whose white man-dictated reservation was further northwest abutting the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near what is now the majestic Glacier National Park.  These were nice kids, as I recall, although the boys did seem to have a difficult time staying in their desk seats.  Like their fathers and grandfathers, ….persistent physical activity defined who they were.

We later moved back to Minnesota where my grandparents lived.  However, fond memories of my years with these Blackfeet kids remain….as does a particular admiration of the northern plains tribes that inhabited the the lands from the Rockies easterly across the Dakotas and into southwestern Minnesota.  The well-known Lakota (or Sioux) tribes of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse dominated these lands.  Their fierce defense of their historic hunting and sacred lands against the westerly expanding “white men” has certainly made it into the legends and facts of American history.

My little hometown in Minnesota was near the sleepy Long Prairie River, a “boundary” river between the Lakota tribes to the west, and the Chippewa (Ojibwa) of the woodlands further north and east.  There were few, if any indigenous inhabitants where I lived, but there certainly were many Chippewa reservations to the north.  I did spend some time while in college, visiting Chippewa friends on a lake in the summer located in the White Earth Reservation.

A few years later, while in the U.S. Army (1970-72) and stationed in Massachusetts I recall reading the popular, and eye-opening, new book by Dee Brown entitled “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee”.   The Wall Street Journal, like many other reviewing publications, described the book as “the bestseller that awakened the world to the destruction of the American Indians in the 19th-Century West”.   It certainly awakened me, and rekindled my interest in Native Americans (I mean “indigenous peoples”, of course), and especially the proud peoples of the northern plains, and in recent years (since moving to Maine in 1974), the Wabanaki Peoples of Maine and Maritime Canada.

The Inuit “inukshuk” rock directional cairn I made and placed on our shoreline “big rock”…. in honor of this northern Canada peoples of Nunavut Province. These were/are makers of the first kayaks, as well fine artisans who carve beautiful stone and bone figures that are nothing short of treasures in the eyes of most Canadians Allen Wicken

The Wabanaki “confederacy” includes the westerly Abanaki that inhabited our area in western Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont;  the Penobscot generally in the north central part of Maine, and the Passamaquoddy, Micmac, and Maliseet of eastern and northern Maine and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, and the Gaspe’ Peninsula of Quebec.   I commend the late Don Palmer, and other planners of the fine Outdoor Heritage Museum in Oquossoc for including a very informative display of what we know of the original inhabitants of the Rangeley Region, the Abenaki, or “Red Paint People”, and whose bones, pottery, and arrow/spear heads were excavated along the Aziscohos River that later became Aziscohos Lake after the dam was built.

Treasured and very fine indigenous peoples baskets (grasses and porcupine quills) from Montana…brought back by my maternal grandparents after working at Hunter’s Hot Springs on the Union Pacific Railroad line north of Yellowstone during the Great Depression in the 1930’s.” Allen Wicken

Additionally, I would urge those of you who, like myself, are interested in our indigenous peoples in Maine to stop by the outstanding Colby College of Art in Waterville and see the current signature exhibit that continues until mid-January 2020 entitled “Wewenikan, the Beauty we Carry”…and exhibition of contemporary art and artisans of the peoples of the Wabenaki Nation.  It is nothing short of outstanding….the baskets, the birchbark canoe and paddles, the other forms of artwork and carvings are something to behold!  The museum is always free….and there is always much more to see from its permanent collection and other visiting exhibitions.  Go to www.colby.edu/museum/exhibitions for more details….

Addendum:  I cannot leave the topic of Indigenous Peoples Day (formerly Columbus Day) without noting my longstanding (and admittedly ethnocentric) campaign to rename Columbus Day to: … Leif Erikson Day…after the first European and Norse Viking explorer who really discovered North America by landing on the northern Newfoundland shores (verified)…500 years before Columbus’ wanderings in 1492….I am good with Indigenous People’s Day….it gives proper recognition where recognition is due.  I shall, however, insist that Leif Erikson be always be given his proper due in history books and websites for discovering North America…(and I shall also insist that Columbus, Ohio be renamed Erikson, Ohio.  That seems fair, doesn’t it?).

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.

Garrison Keillor

I’ll be ridin’ shotgun, underneath the hot sun, feelin’ like a someone….

Pomplamoose

Per usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.  Jot them down on a 3”x5” card, attach it to a signed copy of “The Vikings in Maine” by Teig Tyrson…and slip it inside the log door of our mudroom on the rockbound west shore of Gull Pond, or simply fire off an email to [email protected]   Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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