At Home

Picture by Arla Patch, James Francis

With these last few quiet days at home, Margy and I were finally (after almost four years) able to take down from the attic all of our wall pictures, and decide how we wanted to decorate the walls of our living room and kitchen. It was especially wonderful to place over our fireplace hearth this print, Stewardship of the Earth, by James E. Francis and Arla Patch. We had purchased it several years ago in a fundraiser for Maine Wabanaki REACH.  Here is more information about it from an article in the Friends Journal.

This work of art is a collaboration between James E. Francis, Penobscot artist and director of cultural and historic preservation for the Penobscot Nation, and Arla Patch, artist, teacher, and [at that time] member of the communications subcommittee of the Wabanaki Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It was made for a western Maine community celebration of the native woman Molly Ockett (c. 1740–1816, Abenaki nation, Pequawket band). The theme of 2013’s MollyOckett Days Festival was “Stewardship of the Earth.” James created the central image of the tree that becomes the earth. Arla created the context based on the European American tradition of quilts. James provided the symbols, which represent the four remaining tribes in the Wabanaki Confederacy: the Penobscot, the Passamaquoddy, the Maliseet, and the Micmac.

A theme of the four directions, which comes from both Native American spirituality and ancient Celtic tradition, is depicted as the night sky for the north; the sun rising over “second island” next to the Passamaquoddy land of Sipayik; the midday sky for the south; and the sun setting over the White Mountains for the west. “Agiocochook” (home of the Great Spirit), also known as Mt. Washington, is included in the western sky.

Blueberries are included for the role they have played in sustaining Maine native peoples historically and to this day. Maple leaves are in the upper corners to honor the development of maple syrup by the Wabanaki.

When we put this picture on the wall, along with a few others around the room, I found myself feeling rooted and joyful, at home in a deeper way than before. It was as if some mysterious magic had created a circle around us, and we were aligning into harmony and beauty.

May that beauty bring us hope and strength as we enter a new decade, a decade that will be pivotal in our collective stewardship of the Earth. May we human beings find a way to live in harmony with all of our relatives on this planet that is our home.

Little Land Spirits

Sunrise after Solstice

Sunrise, the morning after Winter Solstice.

In Scandinavia, there is a Solstice Eve tradition to leave a bowl of porridge outside for the Nisse, the little land spirit person who helps out with the work on the farm and serves as a guardian to the family and the animals. According to what I learned, it was very important to put a pat of butter on top.  The Nisse can be troublesome if not properly respected.

There are little guardian spirit people traditions in many other places, too.  Scots and English call them Brownies, there is the German Kobold, and I have learned about Wabanaki little people called Wonakomehsisok who were said to be spirit helpers who lived among rocks. The Wolastoqiyik spoke of Kiwolatomuhsisok, who were said to help people secretly at night, and have a breath that smells like mold.

All that said, on Solstice Eve, I put out a bowl of porridge in the back yard, with a big pat of butter on top, (which by the way is how I like my own porridge) as an offering for any little land spirits on our land that might appreciate it.  Perhaps it might be one more way to deepen our relationship with this land, to make friends with the spirits who protect and cherish the land.

Sadly, the next morning, it was still there, and frozen–but I moved it from the middle of the yard to the way back, where more wild creatures tend to go by. (We’ve put other food offerings out there in a similar way, and they disappear.) When I returned from my walk, I was happy to see a crow back there at the bowl, pecking at it with their beak.  They are also guardians of this land.

Crow eating butter – Version 2

Later, I discovered that the crow flew off with the pat of butter but left the porridge.  So I guess that our land spirits might not like porridge–which is after all a very European food tradition.  We’ll have to keep experimenting with other foods, to see what they prefer.  Still, I was happy to give a gift to the crow.

The Flowing

Orchard August 2019

The other morning I woke from a dream, in which I was thinking about Wabanaki languages. Wabanaki languages are a flowing. Everything is moving. Verbs are central. Verbs change shape to fit who is acting, who is moving, how many, and who or what their object might be. For example, Wiku is a verb for identifying where someone dwells. (The k is pronounced like g.) As in, Wiku Portland, meaning, “He/or/she lives in Portland.” But to say, “I live in Portland,” would be Nwik Portland.  “Where do you live?”  Tama kwik?

Even many nouns are flowing, changing, shapeshifting. Like the word for home. The noun, Wik, means a home. But “my home” is nik. “At our home” is nikonuk. “At your home” is kikonuk. The words flow depending on who lives there, or if you are going there. And the words for “mother” are related to the words for home. Wikuwossol, nikuwoss, kikuwoss. “His/or/her mother, my mother, your mother.” Flowing. Shapeshifting. Full of relationship.

English, on the other hand, is filled with many more nouns than verbs. Since contact with the colonizers, Wabanaki languages have had to add more nouns to the lexicon, to translate from English or French. Some of these nouns were created from verbs by adding an ending that, by itself, means “bait.” For example, koselomol, means “I love you.”  But to turn the verb “love” into a noun, you must say kseltomuwakon. Wakon means “bait.” So perhaps to make these nouns we must capture the verb, trap it with our bait, to stop its movement for a moment.

We colonizers live in solid houses with lots of things/nouns in them. The Indigenous peoples of northern places used to live in easily movable homes, with fewer things, to follow the hunt in winter, to fish the shores in summer. Everything was a movement, a dance, a shape-shifting. (Of course, many southern Indigenous peoples were/are farmers, stayed in one place. I don’t have any exposure to how their languages work.) But I notice the tendency in me to look for solid things, to struggle with the endless flow.  To try to put things in their places, get organized.  Make vocabulary flash cards to capture the words into my brain. (Even though the Wabanaki Languages class I am taking is on summer break, I have been listening to the recordings from the class, and continuing to study.)

Still, the garden in this place, at our home, nikonuk, also tries to teach me about flow, if I can be open to it. Every week is filled with different patterns and growing and shapeshifting. This week, no more snap peas or raspberries. But the basil has come back again after I harvested most of its leaves a while ago. The young fruit trees are wild and leafy. The bee balm is dying, and prone to powdery mildew. My nephew and his girlfriend helped me put wood chips on the paths during their visit a couple weeks ago. It rained during the night last night. Every day is different. There is no way to get the garden in shape, in form, once and for all. It demands relationship, interaction, flowing, it demands the verb “gardening.”

In Passamaquoddy, kihke means “He/she gardens or plants,” and kihkan is a garden. It is also another form of the verb.

 

 

Wabanaki Languages 102

I wanted to study Wabanaki languages with Roger Paul as a way of decolonizing my mind.  Yesterday we began the second semester and already I am experiencing two challenges which seem directly related to this very decolonization process.

Wabanaki languages were spoken for thousands of years, and only more recently have been written, usually with the aid of outside linguists who were sent to each tribe and devised writing systems that differed from each other.  These writing systems are still in flux.  There is an “official” writing system for Passamaquoddy for example, exemplified in the online dictionary, but there are also phonetic systems that spell words more closely based on how they sound.  Roger really doesn’t care how we spell the words.  He grew up speaking the language, but only learned to write it as an adult.  He cares about how we pronounce and speak. So this is a shift from my own ingrained habit of learning more by seeing a word written, than by hearing it spoken. (Though of course, all babies learn to listen and speak before we learn to write. And we do learn to write the words as well.)

The second challenge is that Wabanaki words do not exist as fixed isolated units, but change form in relationship to the context and meaning. In the first semester, we studied lists of words (and a few phrases), beginning to create a basic vocabulary.  But in this semester, we will be studying sentences.  Words in relationship to each other.  And words as sentences–because a sentence might be expressed in one “word.”

As I think about it, I realize how much this may reflect underlying differences between Euro-centric culture and Indigenous culture here on this land.  Euro-centric culture is object oriented–taking things apart, categorizing them, defining them.  Indigenous culture is relational–nothing exists except in relation to everything else. Likewise, English words are more fixed in form, while Wabanaki words are relational.

Last semester, I gradually created a huge set of flash cards with all the words presented, so I could practice and learn them.  I created recorded excerpts of the words and their meanings, so I could listen to them (especially in the car) and get the pronunciations into my head. But now, we are stepping into a different sort of process. The change goes deeper.

Kuskicinuwatu?  (or) Gooskeejinuwadoo? (or) Do you speak a Native language?

Robins in berry tree

Robins hidden within the branches of a winter tree.

 

 

Indigenous Issues and the Newly-Elected Maine Governor, Janet Mills

I am sharing this essay written by Dawn Neptune Adams, as part of her work as Racial and Social Justice Consultant at the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine.  Please note the action items included!

(It was falsely reported to FB as “abusive” and is now a censored link. I am copying it here as one more way to amplify Indigenous voices on issues that are vitally important to everyone.)

Moving Forward:

Indigenous Issues and the Newly-Elected Governor, Janet Mills

By Dawn Neptune Adams, November, 2018

Congratulations! We all survived the midterm elections. Now, where do we go from here? Newly-elected Governor Janet Mills is known for her work in opposition to Indigenous issues during her time as Attorney General. Three of the most pressing issues are presented in the following essay, along with steps in moving forward:

1. VAWA

Native Womxn are three times more likely to suffer from violent crimes than any other group of womxn. According to statistics, 80% of these crimes are committed by non-Native men. Mills fought to keep Wabanaki Womxn from protections under the Violence Against Women Act of 2013, stating that our communities are not sovereign but are municipalities and therefore not eligible for the additional safeguards put in place by the Federal Government, for every Federally-recognized tribe in the Nation but those in Maine and Alaska.

Moving forward, an updated version of Legislative bill LD 268 “An Act regarding Penobscot Nation’s and Passamaquoddy Tribes’ Authority to exercise Jurisdiction under Federal Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the Federal Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013” must be introduced and passed. Any attempt on the part of Governor Mills to veto the bill should be met with resistance.

A comment was requested from Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Dana, who answered: “We are committed to working out the kinks in the potential jurisdictional issues that have been barriers in the past. This may mean looking at how the [Maine Indian Land Claims] Settlement Act is being interpreted and used not in the best interest of tribal sovereignty. It is on the radar of the new Governor and we are hopeful we can reach some deeper understanding.”

2. Penobscot Nation vs. Attorney General Janet Mills

Kirk FrancisThe Penobscot River has always been home to the People of the Penobscot Nation. As the Attorney General listed in the lawsuit Penobscot Nation vs. AG Janet Mills, Mills has vociferously defended the State’s opinion that the Water flowing in the Penobscot River surrounding the 200+ islands that make up the Penobscot Nation, was not part of Penobscot Territory. This contradicts Treaties and past interpretations of the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act (MILCSA). The State of Maine and a consortium of 17 Industrial and municipal intervenors, represented by the lobbying firm Pierce Atwood, opposed Penobscot stewardship of the main stem of the River in a manner said by the Federal Government to be in violation of Federal Indian law, and tantamount to an “unlawful territorial taking” of 61 miles of River.

In December of 2015, the U.S. District Court in Portland, Maine, reaffirmed the Tribe’s Treaty-reserved sustenance fishing rights, but decided in favor of the State in redefining the definition of “Tribal Waters.” In the First Circuit Court of Appeals, one of three judges issued a dissenting opinion. Judge Juan Torruella wrote an argument reaffirming the Penobscot territory to include both the land and the water, in which he cited the Treaties of 1796, 1818, and 1833; and legal precedents set in previous agreements which support Tribal stewardship of the River.

Moving forward, the Penobscot Nation has one more level of appeals called an “en banc review” in which the case is heard by a large panel of judges and is usually reserved for complicated or unusual cases. This option is currently being discussed by Tribal leaders. We will need the support of all of our friends and coalitions to keep Industrial interests from framing the narrative in a way that suggests the Penobscot People are trying to exclude anyone from using the River; the Penobscot Nation is simply defending itself against territorial theft and a termination attempt. The River is our Relative and we are determined to protect her health for future generations of ALL the people of Wabanaki Territory.

*Update* January 5, 2019 thanks to Community Water Justice “Jerry Reid was just appointed by Gov Janet Mills to serve as the next Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Anti-water protector. Oppressor of Native people.

Mr. Reid fought in court against the Penobscot Nation to their inherent fishing rights and claimed that the Penobscot River was not part of their reservation. He sided with the water-polluting corporations in the Penobscot Nation vs Mills case. He also absurdly claimed in court that the Penobscots only ever fished from the shoreline and not from the water, as though he had never heard of fishing from a canoe or watercraft.

This appointment tells us clearly where Gov. Mills stands with indigenous people. We who stand for the protection of our water and the Wabanaki demand better in state leadership for the people of Maine.

This appointment will first need approval from the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and if approved there, will move forward for approval by the Senate. Please email members of the Committee (below) AND your Senator to ‘ought not approve’ Mr Reid’s appointment:

Ralph Tucker (D) – (Chair) Ralph.Tucker@legislature.maine.gov

Brownie Carson (D) – Brownie.Carson@legislature.maine.gov

Justin Chenette (D) – Justin.Chenette@legislature.maine.gov

Robert Foley – (R) – Robert.Foley@legislature.maine.gov

Mick Devin (D) – Michael.Devin@legislature.maine.gov

Jessica Fay (D) – Jessica.Fay@legislature.maine.gov

Stanley Paige Ziegler Jr (D) – StanleyPaige.Zeigler@legislature.maine.gov

Lori Gramlich (D) – Lori.Gramlich@legislature.maine.gov

Daniel Hobbs (D) – Daniel.Hobbs@legislature.maine.gov

Richard Campbell (R) – Richard.Campbell@legislature.maine.gov

Peter Lyford (R) – Peter.Lyford@legislature.maine.gov

Thomas Skolfield (R) – Thomas.Skolfield@legislature.maine.gov

Chris Johansen (R) – Chris.Johansen@legislature.maine.gov

Search by town to find your State Senator here:

https://legislature.maine.gov/senat…/find-your-state-senator

#WaterIsLife #ProtectOurWater #HonorTheTreaties #ProtectNativeSovereignty #RespectEachOther #Maine #BeBetter

3. Maine vs. the EPA

Clean water and fish on the dinner table should be a right for all of the people in Wabanaki Territory, now called Maine. In 2014, the State of Maine’s DEP tried unsuccessfully to set water standards so low as to allow only 1.4 ounces of fish from Tribal Waters per day. This equals a portion the size of almost one-half of a deck of playing cards; not even close to the definition of sustenance. The EPA refused these standards, fulfilling the Federal Government’s trust responsibility to uphold Treaty-reserved sustenance fishing rights, and in 2016, insisted on water standards in Tribal Waters that would allow for safe consumption of 10 ounces of fish per day. This resulted in the lawsuit Maine vs. the EPA, in which AG Mills stood with Industrial interests and Gov. LePage in opposition to clean water for all of us. Later, Mills petitioned Trump’s former EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, to withdraw the standards set by his predecessor. The EPA is now poised to rollback these Water quality standards.

At the current time, Scientists from the Penobscot Nation Dept. of Natural Resources recommend NO freshwater fish consumption for Womxn who are pregnant, nursing, or planning to become pregnant; nor for any child under the age of eight. For anyone else, recommended consumption of fish from the Penobscot River is 10 ounces per month.

Moving forward, resistance to this regression in water quality standards is of the utmost importance. Because Penobscot people eat more fish than surrounding populations, the cancer rate is five times higher in our communities than in the communities of our neighbors. Our cultural connection to the River includes eating fish, just as our Ancestors have done since time began here in this beautiful place we now call Maine. Clean water is in the best interest of ALL the people of Maine, and we must make sure that Industrial interests and Trump’s EPA no longer have an ally in the Blaine House nor in the Attorney General’s office, as they did while LePage was Governor.

In all of the issues outlined above, the recurring theme is the question of sovereignty and misinterpretation of the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act. The Act was signed with the understanding that any ambiguities should favor of the Tribe and that the MILCSA never abrogated our Treaty rights. I look forward to standing with you in the protection of our Relatives.

I Walk in Passamaquoddy

I have had the privilege of studying Wabanaki Languages this fall, taught by Roger Paul. For me it has been a small way to begin to decolonize my mind–to begin to think differently.  Our final project was to make a short presentation to our class, and I was inspired by the words we had learned to talk about the animals I see and hear on my morning walk. I also drew on the Passamaquoddy/Maliseet (Wolastoqe) Language Portal for further help with verb and noun forms, and I learned some new words along the way.  If any speakers of the language read this, edits are welcome! Roger encouraged us to jump in with using the language, even though we will make mistakes. 

For those who do not know about Wabanaki languages, you might find it interesting that animals are not referred to as “it,” and people are not referred to by “he” or “she.”  There are “animate” and “inanimate” forms, and both people and animals are referred to by animate, non-gendered verb and noun forms.  A lot of information is encoded into one word.  So, for example, “npomuhs” means “I walk.”  “Nutuwak” means “I hear (beings plural and animate.)

Ntoliwis Mayk. Nuceyaw Portland.  (My name is Myke. I am from Portland.)

Spasuwiw npomuhs. Wolokiskot.  (In the morning I walk. It is a beautiful day.)

Nolokuhs lahtoqehsonuk.   (I walk in the direction of the north.)

Nutuwak sipsisok.   (I hear small birds.)

Nomiyak mihkuwiyik oposik.  (I see squirrels in a tree.)

Apc, nolokuhs cipenuk.   (Next, I walk in the direction of the east).

Nomiya kisuhs musqonok.  (I see the sun in the sky.)

Nutuwak kahkakuhsok. Tolewestuhtuwok.  (I hear the crows. They are talking)

Nomiyak oqomolcin kehsuwok nehmiyik awtik.  (I see eight turkeys in the street.)

Apc, nolokuhs sawonehsonuk.  (Next, I walk in the direction of the south.)

Npomuhs sipuwahkuk, naka nomiya motehehsim sipuhsisok.   (I walk along the edge of the brook, and I see a duck in the brook.)

Nutuwa pakahqaha lamatokiw.  (I hear a woodpecker a little ways into the forest.)

Wahte, nomiya qaqsoss.  (In the distance, I see a fox.)

Apc, nolokuhs skiyahsonuk, naka ntapaci nikok.   (Next, I walk in the direction of the west, and I come back to my house).

WoodchuckNomiya munimqehs kihkanok. N’ciciya wot.   (I see a woodchuck in the garden. I know this one.)

Coness, Munimqehs! Musa micihkoc kihkakonol! Wesuwess!   (Stop, Woodchuck! Don’t eat the vegetables! Go back where you came from! )

Munimqehs qasku. Qasku asit kakskusik. Qasku lamatokiw.   (Woodchuck runs. S/he runs behind the cedar. S/he runs a little ways into the forest.)

Toke, ntop qotaputik qocomok.  (Now, I sit in the chair outside.)

Komac Wolokiskot! Woliwon!   (It is a very good day. Thank you)

Going Back to School

USM IDI have a feeling of glee because I am taking a class at the University of Southern Maine.  Well, actually I am auditing it.  I discovered that anyone 65 and over can audit classes almost for free (compared to actual tuition costs).  I had to pay a $55 “transportation” fee, and then learned that with my student ID (I have a student ID!) I can take the metro bus for free.  So many new things, and it reminds me of my excited feelings of going back to school when I was a kid.

But I am especially excited about this class, Wabanaki Languages, taught by Roger Paul, whom I got to know through the Decolonizing Faith project in which I am involved.  Roger is really fun and funny and is a native speaker of the language, and a fountain of history and understanding. We’ll be learning “oral history of Wabanaki languages and stories of Wabanaki elders passed from generation to generation,” along with vocabulary and pronunciation and the like.

For those who are not from this area, the Wabanaki peoples are the Indigenous people of Maine, and there are four distinct modern tribal communities, but as Roger tells us, they are not really so distinct.  It was Europeans who thought of them as different from each other.  The people lived in villages where the food supply would support them (mostly hunting, fishing and gathering) and when the group grew too large for that system, they would start a new village down river or at the next river.  So the languages are variations of the same tongue, and the people were identified by the places they lived, or by characteristics of those places.

Most of the students in the class are Wabanaki tribal members learning to speak their own language, as much was lost during the era of boarding schools.  Now there are efforts among children and adults to revitalize the language while there are still Native speakers.  Roger has been involved in teaching children on the reservation.  But why am I interested, as a white person, to learn this language?  Years ago, when I was first learning about the challenges that face Indigenous people, I got involved in the issue of cultural appropriation–the theft of Native spiritual practices by non-Native peoples, especially in New Age settings. (See more on that at Wanting to Be Indian.)

I remember one Indigenous writer saying, “If you really want to learn about our spirituality, learn our language.” I’ve learned a lot from Native authors such as Robin Wall Kimmerer talking about some of the key differences between Indigenous language and English.  Particularly, Kimmerer speaks about the idea of animacy and inanimacy as embedded in the syntax.  Trees, animals, plants, rivers are never referred to as “objects” or as “it” in her language.  They are alive, animate.  All the verbs and pronouns are organized around whether you are referring to something alive, or inanimate.  The language we speak affects how we think about our world.  The English language has colonized this place, made the land and water and creatures into “its.”

I want to learn Wabanaki Languages to better understand Wabanaki people and culture, and this place in which I live, the language native to this place.  I want to help decolonize my mind, and learn to think in a new way.