Begin Again: reckoning with intolerance in Maine

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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Maine is Wabanaki Homelands

Wabanaki people, including the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abenaki Nations, have inhabited what is now northern New England, the Canadian Maritimes, and Quebec, since time immemorial according to oral histories, and for at least 13,000 years according to the archaeological record.

The Wabanaki Confederacy, hundreds of years old, is defined not only by a set of diplomatic protocols and persuasive discourse, it seeks out international relationships to address interconnected problems across the greater Wabanaki territory.

Critical to its functioning is the shared knowledge between the Wabanaki Nations that our landscapes are alive with our relations and collective responsibilities to serve one another, human and non-human, ancestors and future generations, for a greater good.

Fundamental to protecting Wabanaki cultural and natural resources is the understanding that if we take care of the resource, it will take care of us—for example, healthy ecosystems of sweet grass require the picking of it each year by Wabanaki artisans and gatherers.

—Darren Ranco

Margaret Moxa's Blanket Coat

Margaret Moxa's Blanket Coat

Read Jennifer Neptune's story

A blanket coat for Margaret Moxa by Jennifer Neptune

I made this blanket coat in memory of a Penobscot family, Margaret Moxa, her husband, her two-month-old baby; and a separate group of eight Penobscot men and one child, who were all murdered by a group of scalp-bounty hunters the evening of July 2, 1755 in what became known as the Owl's Head Massacre. The accounts of that evening are horrific, Margaret begged for her baby to be spared and brought to Captain Bradbury at the Fort, instead she was forced to watch her child's murder.

Margaret had become a friend to the English women who resided in Thomaston at Saint George's Fort, making regular visits to them. The grief of the women at the fort upon learning the fate of their friend Margaret Moxa was reported in accounts to be "deep and unappeasable." The group of Penobscot men and the child traveling with them were returning from a peace conference at the fort.

James Cargill, of Newcastle, purposely led his expedition into Penobscot territory, even though the Penobscot were exempted at that time from the bounty proclamation issued in June of 1755 that targeted the Abenaki of the Kennebec region.

When Cargill and his group reported to the Fort the following day with the scalps, they were refused supplies and were reported to the authorities in Boston on massacre charges. Cargill was arrested and jailed.

In November of 1755, Lt. Governor Phipps of Massachusetts declared war and issued a scalp bounty proclamation on the Penobscot for refusing to agree to move to English forts for surveillance as the English feared Penobscot retaliation. Instead, Penobscot people living in the area moved to territories further inland for safety. Cargill was released to fight in this war, and in 1757 he was acquitted of the massacre charges by a jury in York, Maine.

In 1758 Cargill, who had kept the scalps of the 12 murdered Penobscot people, attempted to turn them in for payment. Massachusetts government debated, and ruled to deny him payment. The report stated, "And it passed in the negative, in as much as it does not appear that the said Indians were such with whom this Government was then at War."

—Jennifer Sapiel Neptune (Penobscot)

A poem for Margaret Moxa

When I heard her story
I cried myself to sleep for weeks

I couldn't stop hearing her baby crying
and her anguished wails as she pleaded for life
from 31 men who had forgotten how to be human,
with hearts that hate had turned to stone.

Blanket Coat by Jennifer Sapiel Neptune, Indian Island, 2021

Blanket Coat by Jennifer Sapiel Neptune, Indian Island, 2021

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

We have stories about those who have lost their souls
Windigo, Chenoo, kíwahkʷe,
hearts of ice, with greed and hunger
that can never be satisfied,
cannibal giants, who prey on horror.

I think of the old Passamaquoddy story of the woman who was able to
turn a Chenoo back to human with her kindness, by treating him as a relative.

I wonder if Margaret thought of that story too
as she looked into their eyes for mercy and found none.

This blanket is my prayer of transformation,
Like my ancestors have done for the past 500 years
I will take the treaty cloth, the cloth of broken promises;
the silken ribbons of deception,
the glass beads of ill intent,
and like Margaret Moxa,
and those that reached out their hands before me,
I will attempt to stitch a prayer so powerful
that it creates a blanket that melts through ice veins,
and through generations with forgiveness,
so that those that hate find their hearts,
and all men turned Chenoo rejoin the human race.

May I have stitched a prayer so full of love, tenderness, and beauty
that it reaches back 266 years
and wraps the innocent in the love of the survivors;

and with such gentleness,
that it comforts the baby's cries.

Jennifer Sapiel Neptune, 2021
Penobscot Nation

Map of the British and French North America, 1775

Map of the British and French North America, 1775

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

A Treaty of Alliance and Friendship

As the Declaration of Independence was being signed, the brand-new United States of America and the Wabanaki Nations, including the Maliseet, the Mi'kmaq, and the Passamaquoddy, were preparing to execute America's first diplomatic success: a Treaty of Alliance and Friendship (now known as the "Watertown Treaty") which was executed just days after the Declaration of Independence and had two primary goals.

First, the Continental Army was on the losing end of a war with the better supplied and trained British Army and needed help, badly. The Treaty of Watertown ensured that Wabanaki warriors would immediately travel to New York to bolster General Washington's force, and secured a pledge of assistance from the Wabanaki to defend what would become the Northern border of the United States.

Second, the Treaty was intended as a statement to the European Nation-States to announce that the United States was prepared to establish diplomatic and military alliances to protect its territorial and sovereign integrity.

At its core, the treaty was a promise of peace and friendship. The Americans received the better end of that bargain. The Wabanaki helped the rebels vanquish the Crown from America only to see the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and State of Maine install themselves as colonial overlords to whom Wabanaki lands and resources were nothing but opportunities to create material wealth. The bountiful natural and marine resources that once sustained the Wabanaki People became the capital investments needed to create "new" wealth in non-Native lumber towns and fishing communities throughout the state.

Michael-Corey F. Hinton

Michael-Corey F. Hinton

Following the American Revolution, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and later the State of Maine entered into new treaties with the Wabanaki Nations that included pledges to protect lands and resources reserved by the Nations. These pledges of peace, friendship, and protection were explicitly incorporated into the Maine Constitution, but the State of Maine has ignored and undermined those obligations since 1820. Whether through the theft of the Penobscot Nation's treaty reserved townships or the flooding of Indian Township to power lumber mills, the Wabanaki Treaty rights referenced in Maine's Constitution have never been properly respected.

—Michael-Corey F. Hinton (Passamaquoddy)

Thomas Jefferson contemplating the sale of Indigenous Homelands, 1776

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was a delegate from Virginia to the Continental Congress during the American Revolution, the primary writer of the Declaration of Independence, the third President of the United States, and a slave owner.

In this letter, Jefferson contemplated selling or giving "unsettled land" to the west—otherwise known as Indigenous Homelands—to poor immigrants following America's divorce from Great Britain.

Jefferson's opinion that the western territories were open for the taking without considering Indigenous sovereignty demonstrates the settler colonialist viewpoints that began with the Doctrines of Discovery, and became cemented into the U.S. governmental structure. Jefferson's zeal for the Revolution and distaste for Indigenous Nations is evident on the last page of this letter, where he mentions the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Six Nations), the Senecas, the Shawnee (Shawanese), Delawares, and foreshadows the Cherokee Trail of Tears,

We directed a declaration to be made to the Six Nations in general that if they did not take the most decisive measures for the preservation of neutrality we would never cease waging war with them while one was to be found on the face of the earth. They immediately changed their conduct & I doubt not have given corresponding information to the Shawanese & the Delawares. I hope the Cherokees will now be driven beyond the Mississippi & that this in future will be declared to the Indians the invariable consequence of their beginning a war. Our contest with Britain is too serious & too great to permit any possibility of avocation from the Indians. This then is the reason for driving them off, & our Southern colonies are happily rid of every other enemy & may exert their whole force in that quarter.

The letter's recipient, Edmund Pendleton (1721-1803) was the Speaker of the Virginia legislature and a slave owner. Pendleton proposed the modification in the statement of universal rights in Virginia's declaration to exclude slaves, thus winning support of slave owners.

#Landback–A New Beginning for Wabanaki Land Relationships

The Wabanaki Tribes of what is now Maine sustained themselves for thousands of years living a community lifestyle based on the availability of land and natural resources. They moved with the seasons, adapting to Mother Earth's natural cycles. They practiced land and natural resource conservation as an integral part of daily living. They understood the need to let enough fish pass upstream of harvest sites so the migrations would continue to feed the people in future years. They conducted wildlife habitat improvements by prescribed burning in order to increase the availability of browse for big game animals. Individual family groups had their hunting territories based on watershed boundaries, and hunting pressure was managed through the geographical movements which allowed areas to recover after being harvested.

When the settler colonialists arrived they found vast old growth forests with abundant natural resources. Compared to the forests in Europe the area was often described as "park like" with its beauty and tall pine trees. This period of contact led to the exploitation and eventual industrialization of the forest, which changed forever the harmonious relationship the Wabanaki Tribes had enjoyed for millennia. Under duress, treaties were entered into with states and most of the Indigenous land holdings were lost. Because of their intimate knowledge of the geography and the forest ecosystem, many tribal men were able to find work as hunting and trapping guides, or work on the log drives on the waterways.

In recent years, the Wabanaki Tribes have once again been able practice some of their cultural traditions on tribal lands due to the return of stewardship responsibilities on lands acquired as a result of the Maine Indian Land Claims Act of 1980. In 2021, tribes are asserting themselves as the original stewards of their traditional Homelands, working with non-tribal landowners and land trusts to develop mutually beneficial relationships that redefine how land conservation is viewed by the larger dominant society. Concepts of land stewardship responsibility are replacing models of land ownership and control that have been the norm for centuries.

As people become more aware of the needs of society to have natural places remain on the landscape, and that return of land stewardship responsibilities to Maine's original people is not a bad idea, our Wabanaki tribal people remain hopeful for a future that includes being able to continue practicing traditional customs that define them.

—John Banks (Penobscot)
Director of the Department of Natural Resources for the Penobscot Indian Nation

Waponahki Women's Leadership

One of the most destructive impacts of colonization for Waponahki (Wabanaki) Nations has been the disruption of our traditional matrifocal and matricultural ways of being, not only in relation to our governance systems but in the overall sociocultural structure of our families, clans, and nations.

Wabanaki peaked hat, ca. 1820

Wabanaki peaked hat, ca. 1820

Item Contributed by
Boston Children's Museum

Waponahki Rematriation

Waponahki Rematriation

Read Sherri Mitchell's story

Traditionally, the women were centered in our societies. The clan mothers were the primary decision makers on all issues impacting our nations, including decisions related to land and other sources of survival for our Peoples. The women were honored as the givers of life and were trusted to provide balanced guidance for protecting, nurturing, and cultivating the lives of tribal members. The dehumanization of women that accompanied colonization violently removed our women from the center of our societies and sent our traditional systems into disarray. As a result, our people suffered. Therefore, we know the true value of our women and we recognize that they are crucial to our cultural survival as Waponahki Peoples.

Waponahki women are once again at the center of our communities. They are leading the work to recover our traditional ways of knowing and being, through language programs, renewal of kinship networks, and the revitalization of land-based teachings that focus on the relationships that exist between all systems within creation. The women are also decolonizing our stories, developing pathways for food sovereignty, and protecting of our lands and waters.

If we hope to continue our progress toward cultural revitalization and cultural survival, we have to ensure that our women are protected while they do the work of interweaving vital cultural knowledge into all aspects of community life, including all moves toward greater self-determination and sovereignty. Centering Waponahki women is the key to saving Waponahki Nations.

—Sherri L. Mitchell Weh’na Ha’mu Kkwasset (Penobscot)
Executive Director, Land Peace Foundation




Read Alivia Moore's story

How we treat the earth reflects how we treat each other. Our shared future for all people in Wabanakiyik calls us to rematriate. The Wabanaki nations exist and were developed in reflection of and humbling ourselves to this land for at least 12 millennia. To truly shift our values, we must acknowledge matriarchies as the human law of the land again.

The future of the land is, undoubtedly, its liberation. As a sovereign being, the earth will always take its course to restore balance, and there is an opportunity for us to collectively embrace this reality. We can choose to mirror the earth's propensity for balance and with that, we can allow for the possibility of human liberation. What we must do is respect the land. We must humble ourselves to understand that we can't heal it. We are not the earth's saviors. We may make claims to the earth by imposing our laws and our private and collective ownership structures on it, but ultimately the land cannot be owned. We are derived from the land, it holds us rather than any of us truly being land holders.

The objective of Maine and the United States as settler states is to completely replace the indigenous people, indigenous laws, values and relationships with those of the settlers'. However, white supremacist settler colonialism is not complete. Indigenous, Black and Brown relatives' resistance is the transformative leadership human society needs. Colonial relations to the earth and one another, i.e. capitalism and hierarchies, are not legitimate nor inevitable. Remember, the American project is in its infancy. Wabanaki Nations are the human elders of this land. Let our matriarchies lead for the betterment of all.

Rematriation efforts must also center two spirit and Indigenous queer folx to step into our power and lead. We are in a time of crisis, we need radical change—a change that brings us back to the roots of how we relate. Our indigenous queers and two spirits are living embodiments of sovereign, decolonized identities. Our existence is a connection to tradition. We are not supposed to be here in the patriarchal, white supremacist settler-colonial society. But here we are. We are living breathing alternative ways of being, seeing and of organizing our families, societies and politics. Two spirits can be, and I feel it is our responsibility to be, agents for a more just way forward. An elder shared that not only are two spirits welcome in Wabanaki communities but we are needed. Our gifts are needed for the health of our entire communities. We are examples of balance, flexibility and responsiveness; these are lessons for the underpinnings of climate adaption and for rebalancing our social, political and economic systems.

—Alivia Moore (Penobscot Nation)
Eastern Woodlands Rematriation and Wabanaki Two Spirit Alliance

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