UMaine News

Passamaquoddy, Penobscots preserved mobility into 19th century

Well into the 19th century, home for Native families continued to be where they camped, fished, hunted and gathered wood in Maine.

For Wabanaki people, home wasn’t confined to, or defined as, one place. Nor was home bound by walls or lines on a map, says Micah Pawling, assistant professor of history and Native American studies at the University of Maine.

Pawling says for Wabanakis — People of the Dawn — home was the integration of family and land.

Wabanaki homeland in the 19th century. Map by Stephen Bicknell, formerly with the University of Maine Department of Anthropology.

Into the 1800s, Wabanaki people seasonally moved in and out of Euro-American societies in their partially colonized homeland.

Native people facing colonial dispossession regularly left reservations to harvest resources at places their ancestors had periodically inhabited, Pawling says.

For example, Penobscots remained active on the lower Penobscot River and in the resource-rich bay; Wabanakis reoccupied the Kennebec River valley; and Passamaquoddy families harvested wood in their traditional homeland near Pleasant Point (Sipayik).

Increasingly, though, Pawling says Euro-American homes, farms and towns rendered some old Native campgrounds inaccessible.

And when Wabanaki families camped and harvested firewood on private property, that sometimes Maine residents sought compensation from the state for those resources.

Some farmers, though, believed they could not evict Native people from living on their land.

At midcentury, Native people continued to retain components of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, despite government officials attempting to impose a sedentary, limited concept of home and being reluctant to assist Native families in need beyond reservation lands.

Pawling’s case study “Wabanaki Homeland and Mobility: Concepts of Home in Nineteenth-Century Maine” was published in Ethnohistory in October 2016.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777