Maine’s history has shaped the place in which we live. We should understand it.
Fortunately, help is available: good books.

“Native Americans”? An awkward term. The Canadians say it better: “First Peoples”. Of course, people named themselves in their native languages, often choosing a term that meant simply “the people”. Geographically and ethnologically challenged Europeans lumped together the people they encountered as “Indians”. When Micmacs and Passamaquoddies, Navajo and Hopi (whose names reflected place, language, or culture) needed to think and sometimes act collectively, to resist, they accepted the collective noun: “Indians”. Most still use it.

The modern boundaries of Maine meant nothing before the Europeans arrived, and very little for some centuries after. We need to consider a larger all-Indian world, and then one of interaction. Calloway’s The Abenaki is a good introduction. (It may be in your library’s children’s section. So what?)

Parts of Maine were “on the frontier” for centuries. It was not a borderline neatly separating peoples and cultures; it was a zone of contact, conflict, and cooperation. People observed, adopted, and adapted each other’s ways and means of living. Axtell’s The Invasion Within, Richter’s Facing East From Indian Country, and others analyze this situation. Anderson’s Creatures of Empire offers another perspective of contact and conflict.

Grumet and Calloway edit works on and by indigenous people: Northeastern Indian Lives; Dawnland Encounters. McBride’s Women of the Dawn portrays three hundred years of Maine women. In Indians in Eden, she and Prins provide a fascinating look at the complex relationship between Wabanaki and the summer people of Bar Harbor. (Wabanaki is an inclusive term to describe most of Maine’s Indians.)

So far we’ve considered mostly Euro-American authors. Maine’s Indians make and write their own history. Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing From New England introduces an extraordinary range of material, from creation myths and 17th and 18th Century petitions to the poetry and prose, fiction and fact of today. 19th Century authors, writing when most Euro-Americans thought that Indians were going or already gone, belie that myth. Historians, legislators, tribal leaders; Mi’Kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Abenaki, Nipmuc, Wampanoag, Narragansett, Mohegan, and Schaghticoke authors tell of the diversity, unity, and vitality of indigenous peoples, past, present, and future.

This column will continue to look at Maine’s history.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: