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Seal of the Penobscot Indian Nation of Maine

The Penobscot (Panawahpskek) are a sovereign people indigenous to what is now Maritime Canada and the northeastern United States, particularly Maine. They were (and are) significant participants in the historical and present Wabanaki Confederacy, along with the Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi'kmaq nations.

The word "Penobscot" originates from a mispronunciation of their name "Penawapskewi." The word means "rocky part" or "descending ledges" and originally referred to the portion of the Penobscot River between Old Town and Bangor. The tribe has adopted the name Penobscot Indian Nation.

Penobscot is also the name of the dialect of Eastern Abenaki (an Algonquian language) that the Penobscot people speak.

Contents

History

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Pre-Contact

Little is known about the Penobscot people pre-contact. Indians are thought to have inhabited Maine and surrounding areas for at least 11,000 years.[1] They subsisted off beavers, otters, moose, bears, caribou, fish, seafood (clams, mussels, fish), birds, bird eggs, berries, nuts, and possibly marine mammals like seals, all which were found throughout their native lands.[2] Furthermore, agriculture was practiced but not to the same extent as that of indigenous peoples in southern New England.[3] Food was only potentially scarce toward the end of the winter, in March and February. However, for the rest of the year, Penobscots as well as other Wabanakis probably had little issue feeding themselves because the land offered much, and the amount of people taking from the land was too small to deplete the land’s resources.[4] Furthermore, they moved seasonally depending on where the most bountiful food would be.

Contact and colonization

Portrait of Sarah Molasses, daughter of John Neptune and Molly Molasses, collection of Peabody Museum (Harvard)

Contact with Europeans was not uncommon during the sixteenth century because the fur trade was lucrative and the Penobscots were willing to trade pelts for European goods like metal axes, guns, and copper or iron cookware. However, the abundance that had existed in Penobscot territory quickly disappeared as demand for the resources in the Penobscot homelands rose. This trade also brought alcohol to Penobscot communities for the first time. The presence of alcohol brought alcoholism, which Europeans frequently tried to exploit in dealings and trade. The Europeans also brought foreign diseases to which the Penobscots had no defenses. The population was also depleted during this time because of ongoing battles between the Wabanaki Federation and the Mohawk Indians. This catastrophic population depletion may have also led to Christian conversion (amongst other factors) because the European priests who had not suffered from the pandemics explained that the Indians had died because they did not believe in Jesus Christ.[5]

The beginning of the seventeenth century saw the first Europeans that lived year-round in Wabanaki territory.[5] At this time, there were probably about 10,000 Penobscots (a number which fell to below 500 in the early nineteenth century).[6] As contact became more permanent, after about 1675, conflicts arose. There were both French and English settlers in the Penobscots’ homelands.

The Penobscots sided with the French during the French and Indian War in the mid-eighteenth century after the English’s refusal to respect the Penobscots’ intended neutrality. This refusal is evidenced by the Spencer Phipps Proclamation of 1755, which put a bounty on the scalps of all Penobscots. Also, the French posed a lesser threat to the Penobscots’ land and way of life in that there population was significantly smaller and intermarriages were accepted.[5]

After the Battle of Quebec in 1759, the Penobscots were without their European ally and left in a weakened position. During the American Revolution, the Penobscots sided with the Patriots and played an important role in defending British offensives from Canada. However, the American government did not reciprocate, and the power dynamics that had existed before and during the war persisted.[5]

In the following centuries, the Penobscots attempted to make treaties in order to hold onto some form of land, but, because they had no way to enforce the treaties with Massachusetts and then with Maine, Americans kept encroaching on their lands. From about 1800 onward, the Penobscots lived on reservations, specifically Indian Island. The Maine state government appointed an Indian Agent to oversee the tribe. The government believed that they were helping the Penobscots, as stated in 1824 by the highest court in Maine that “…imbecility on their parts, and the dictates of humanity on ours, have necessarily prescribed to them their subjection to our paternal control.” This sentiment of “imbecility” set up a power dynamic in which the government treated the Penobscots as wards of the state and decided how their affairs would be taken care of. This perceived charity from the government was actually the Penobscots’ money from land treaties and trusts, which the state had control over and used as it saw fit.[5]

Land Claims

In 1790, the young federal government enacted the Nonintercourse Act, which stated that the transfer of Indian lands to non-Indians had to be approved the United States Congress. Between the years of 1794 and 1833, the Penobscots and Passamaquoddy tribes ceded the majority of their lands to Massachusetts (then to Maine after it became a state in 1820) through treaties that had not been approved by the Federal government. In the 1970s, the Maine Indians sued, calling for some sort of compensation in the form of land, money, and autonomy for the violation of this Act. The disputed land accounted for 60% of all of the land in Maine, and 35,000 people (the vast majority of whom were not Indians) lived in the disputed territory. The settlement, reached in 1980, resulted in an 81.5 million dollar settlement that could be used to acquire more land, some of which could be held in trust by the federal government and the rest of which could be used to purchase land in the normal manner. The act also established the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission whose function was to oversee the effectiveness of the Act and to intervene in certain areas such as fishing rights, etc. in order to settle disputes between the state and the Penobscot or Passamaquoddy.[7]

Language

The Penobscot language is an Algonquian language and is very similar to the languages of the other members of the Wabanaki Confederacy. There are no living members of the Penobscot nation fluent in the spoken language, but there is a dictionary, and the elementary school and the Boys and Girls Club on Indian Island are making an effort to reintroduce the language by teaching it to the children.[8]

The alphabet used in the Penobscot language shares some characters with the Roman alphabet, but also has distinct characters used for making sounds that do not exist in the Roman alphabet.[9]

Crafts

Baskets

The Penobscots traditionally made baskets out of sweet grass, brown ash, and birch bark. These materials grow in wetlands throughout Maine. However, the species are threatened due to habitat destruction and the emerald ash borer, an insect that threatens to destroy all ash trees in Maine, much as it already has devastated ash forests in the Midwest. Originally, the baskets were made for practical use, but after European contact, the Penobscots began making “fancy baskets”, which they could trade with the Europeans. Basket making is a skill that is passed down in families traditionally and has recently made a significant comeback in the tribes.[10]

Birchbark canoes

The birch bark canoe was at one time an important mode of transportation for all tribes in the Wabanaki Conference. The shape of the canoe varies slightly between the tribes. The canoe is made one piece of bark from a white birch tree, which, if done correctly, can be removed without killing the tree.[11]

Religion

Penobscot tradition describes Gluskabe as the creator of man and women. Legends which explained phenomena such as the wind and the growing of corn were passed down orally from generation to generation. With the arrival of the French colonists, many Penobscot people converted to Christianity. Now there are a wide range of religions practiced on Indian island.[12]

Gaming

In 1973 Penobscot High Stakes Bingo opened on Indian Island. This was the first commercial gambling operation on a reservation in the United States. Bingo is open one weekend every six weeks. The Penobscot tribe has pushed for legislation allowing them to add slot machines to their bingo hall, but have not been granted it thus far.[13]

History

Historical territories of Eastern Abenaki tribes

Notable Penobscots

  • Old John Neptune, shaman mentioned by Henry David Thoreau
  • Andrew Sockalexis, a marathon runner who competed in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, inducted into the Maine Running Hall of Fame in 1989. [4]
  • Louis Sockalexis, the first native American in major league baseball.
  • Donna Loring, Vietnam veteran, tribal representative, and author
  • Joseph Nicolar, Penobscot Tribal Representative to Maine State Legislature and author of 1893 book "The Life and Traditions of the Red Man."
  • Charles Norman Shay, Decorated war hero of Omaha Beach, Normandy, in WWII, recipient of the French Legion of Honor medal
  • Tena Zapantis, owner of the Strand Theatre in Clinton MA.

See also

References

  1. ^ The Wabanakis of Maine and the Maritimes. American Friends Service Committee, 1989.
  2. ^ Wabanakis of Maine and the Maritimes
  3. ^ James Francis. “Burnt Harvest: Penobscot People and Fire,” Maine History 44, 1 (2008) 4-18.
  4. ^ Wabanakies of Maine and the Maritimes
  5. ^ a b c d e Wabanakies of Maine and the Maritimes
  6. ^ History. Penobscot Nation.
  7. ^ Diana Scully. “Maine Indian Claims Settlement: Concepts, Contexts, and Perspectives” 14 February 1995. http://www.abbemuseum.org/d_scully_landclaims.pdf
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ [3]
  11. ^ http://www.penobscotriver.org/content/4060/Birch_Bark_Canoe/
  12. ^ Wabanakies of Maine and the Maritimes
  13. ^ http://penobscotbingo.com/

Maps

Maps showing the approximate locations of areas occupied by members of the Wabanaki Confederacy (from north to south):

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PENOBSCOT, a tribe of North American Indians of Algonquian stock. Their old range was the country around the river Penobscot in Maine. They sided with the French in the colonial wars, but made a treaty of peace with the English in 1749. They fought against the English in the War of Independence, and were subsequently settled on an island in the Penobscot river, near Oldtown.


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