The Elders Speak Video Transcript

Drumming and singing.

Visual: A series of historic images. Text on screen reads: Maine Indian Basetmakers Alliance and The Hudson Museum Presents Ted Mitchell, Arnold Neptune, and Joseph “Cozy” Nicholas. Opening Music by Watie Akins “Welcome Dance Song” from “Pageant Songs Plus Songs from the Past”. The Elders Speak.

Visual: Historical images of Wabanaki people and places.

Ted Mitchell, Penobscot

Voice of Ted Mitchell, Penobscot: The river was our lifeblood and so we don’t think of water in the river as,  say, you would; but it’s been so much of our lives here.  They didn’t build that bridge till I was 30 old. The bridge, well that took away the need for a boat with the coming of the bridge. And for a year before they finished the bridge people were still working on the beams, were walking on the beams to get over here.

The best customers the Indians had at that time period I’m talking about – I don’t know how much affected it had at the other two reservations but – there used to be Gypsies, but they were the best among the best customers that the Indians had. You know that there were Gypsies they belong to the Gypsy bands and, I mean, they had quite a reputation, but they never applied that on reservation; they never tried to beat Indians down and or give them their price. They were buying the baskets from the people here and going out and selling them and they never argued price.

Some people were fancy basket makers and they required a stick of ash that was workable for them which means you could drum up fine enough for their work, and then some were concentrating what they call market baskets – nice pack baskets and shopping baskets and those kinds of things and that was a big thing then when I was growing up.

Arnold Neptune, Penobscot

Visual: A elderly man sitting on a couch speaking to the camera. He wears a leather jacket with embroidery and fringe over a collared shirt and a bolo tie with a silver and turquoise slide.

Voice of Arnold Neptune, Penobscot: You know we didn’t we didn’t know the word “prejudice”. We didn’t know that word, it didn’t exist, we just know that people in the town kind of treated us in a strange way – that they looked at us in a very mean way with their eyes and talked to us really only when they had to.

The culture was brought back during the time when there was a problem out in the West by the, oh what do you call it, Wounded Knee, at Wounded Knee, and some of our people went out there – the young people – and they learned some of the traditions. So then when they came back here they thought “Well, let’s find out” – they wanted to know about the traditions of our tribe. So I guess they were able to get some knowledge of how our tribes… what they did, how they lived, and so forth. So then they started to try to live that way.

Visual: Video fades briefly into an historic black and white image of an elderly Wabanaki man in traditional costume with a large feather headdress.  Image then returns to video of Arnold Neptune on couch speaking to camera.

Voice of Arnold Neptune: Then when I came home, I had to learn something about my people so I studied everything that I could get my hands on about my people, the Penobscots. Then I went round to the powwows at all the other tribes – the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy – and so I learned an awful lot about the tribes, the traditions they have, and the ceremonies that they conduct. And that’s where I started learning. I was very interested. There I could find out a lot of things about my tribe, and a lot of things about the other tribes, also, and customs and the traditions. Language was a little harder, was harder, I couldn’t quite grasp that. Of course, there wasn’t anybody teaching it, as well, except what you could read in books and so I didn’t learn the language and I’m sorry I didn’t but that’s how it went.

Visual: Video fades between historic images of people in a bateaus or canoes on a river and video of Arnold Neptune on couch speaking to camera.

Voice of Arnold Neptune: There was no bridge there, we would cross over by canoe and/or the ferry boat. Everybody didn’t have a canoe; some people had a canoe, others didn’t, so we had to rely upon the ferry boat to get over to Old Town and back. And that was good because it was only two cents – two cents over, two cents back – and tourists paid five cents over five cents back. In the winter they didn’t have the ferry boat, but they had the sawdust bridge. Sawdust would insulate the ice all the way across and even trucks, cars, everything came across on the sawdust bridge.

Joseph “Cozy” Nicholas, Passamaquoddy

Visual: An elderly man in an argyle sweater sits in an armchair and speaks to someone off camera.  A rootclub hangs on the wall next to him.  The image fades briefly into an aerial view of a sparce collection of buildings along a single branching road along the coast, then returns to the speaker.

Voice of Joseph “Cozy” Nicholas, Passamaquoddy: I was born here in 1925 and I’ll be 82 in July and I grew up here with a lot of good happy days but in dire poverty. We lived in homes and not houses that’s what makes my remembrance of the past.  Everybody loved and helped everybody else. We lived in a very small village. Now it’s expanded to the point where I don’t even recognize anybody, and the unfortunate thing is as a result of that part of our culture is starting to disappear in many areas. Nowadays nobody visits anybody; everybody is on their own. And that there TV, that’s what spoiled our language. That’s all you ever hear.

Visual: Video fades briefly to an historical image of a group of 18 people in Native costume. The group includes people of all ages and apparent genders form young children through elders.  The video then returns to the speaker.

Voice of Joseph “Cozy” Nicholas: But years ago everybody visited everybody and you walk into anybody’s house, no matter what they had, they shared it. If they’re having dinner you don’t knock on the door, you walk in and just sit down and eat. Those are the kind of things you miss. Not that I’m hungry all the time but nevertheless it’s the idea – the kind of companionship that everybody had.

Visual: Video fades between the speaker and color images of people in regalia at an outdoor gathering. The first image shows a younger Joseph “Cozy” Mitchell holding a drum and in full regalia.

Voice of Joseph “Cozy” Nicholas: My love, the other one, is making sure… reviving the Indian ceremonial day each year. It’s been going on for over 40 years and the first time I retired from that was last year. I think basically to make these children growing up and other people to understand who we are in a positive sense and not negative. We’ve been written so negatively in the past. When I first started out it was difficult. Nobody wanted to dance. Nobody wanted to put the regalia on. Now it’s one of the biggest events. It took 40 years to tell them how proud they should be, why they should be. Telling the stories. And they’re proud now. Before there was such an inferiority complex. Like I said, when we went to school we were kind of look down upon – we lived in shacks. We’ve done something to generate interest on doing my part to encourage the young people to go to school for their education which I never had the opportunity to do and in the process make sure you never forget who you really are. Doesn’t make any difference who.


Featuring: Ted Mitchell, Arnold Neptune, Joseph “Cozy” Nicholas.

A Collaboration of: The Hudson Museum and the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance.

Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance is supported in part by: Artography, a grant program of Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), funded by the Ford Foundation.

Video Documentation Provided By: ASAP Media Service (Mike Scott, Alexander Gross, Yeshe Parks, Will Seyffer, Justin Taylor).

Millie Rahn, Folklorist.

Hudson Museum: Gretchen Faulkner, Director; Stephen Bicknell, Still Photographer.

Music by Watie Akins. “Welcome Dance Song” from the album “For the Grandchildren: Pageant Songs Plus Songs from the Past”.

Funded by Native Arts @NEFA, a program of the New England Foundation for the Arts.

Funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Also made possible by The University of Maine.