1st Place High School Division
A Century of Assimilation
When Denise Altvater, a Passamaquoddy from Maine, was seven years old, child welfare officials showed up at her house. She and her five sisters were alone. They took all six girls more than 100 miles away to a foster family where they lived for the next four years (Sharon). This is an example of what happened to hundreds of Maine Native American children during the “century of assimilation”. From about 1870 to 1970, Maine Native American children, along with other Native American children across the country, were separated from their families to be raised in boarding schools and white families. This was the government’s attempt to make all of the indigenous people “civilized”. The “century of assimilation” was a period where the U.S. government was seeking to wipe out the Native American cultures. The children were taken away by government and church officials, and suffered years of loneliness and homesickness as a result of the long or permanent separation from their family and tribe.
In the mid- 1800’s, national and state government officials began working on ways to end the cultural differences between indigenous people and the people of European descent. They believed that for the two groups to coexist they should both use the new American culture and way of life. They viewed the Native Americans as savages that needed to be converted to civilized people. According to the reformers at the time, to be civilized, the Native American should wear the modern American clothing, live in American houses, eat American food, send their children to schools, etc. One of the ideas about how to solve this “Indian problem” required the separation of Native American families (Child 43). The government would carry out this plan by taking away the children to be raised in white families or boarding schools. At this time, policy makers and reformers had come to an agreement that the tribal environment had a negative impact on the children (Child 43). They believed that the tribe was preventing the new generation from accepting the civilized way of life. Therefore, they believed they would be acting in the children’s best interests to raise them away from their families. Their goal was to create a new generation of Native Americans that were civilized and prepared for the changing world. By forcing the indigenous children to grow up in the American way of life, the officials would also be ending the cultural differences between the two groups of people.
Various methods of destroying the native culture focused on children were used throughout the “century of assimilation.” In the late 1800s, native Maine children were taken mainly by church groups with government support. These church groups distributed the children to families that agreed to make them proper Americans. Then, boarding schools were built to house a greater quantity of children. These schools were the most widely used form of assimilation through the early 1900s. In “To Remain an Indian”, the boarding schools are called “laboratories for a grand experiment in cultural cleansing” by “a ‘civilized’ nation.” In 1958, the Indian Adoption Program was created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America. This put the confiscated Native American children up for adoption to white families (Healing from Indian Child ‘Takings’ is in the Telling).
Whether they were taken to boarding schools or adopted by white families, many indigenous children experienced extreme homesickness and often disease. Children felt lonely and isolated when they first arrived at school and many continued to be afflicted with homesickness throughout their terms of study (Child 43). Most children were not allowed to visit their parents or communicate with them. The Native American parents had no idea how their children were faring in the distant schools. At school, the children were not allowed to speak their native language or practice their culture in any way without permission. They were often severely punished if they so much as spoke a single word in their own language. Also, communicable diseases flourished in the Indian boarding schools, and many students contracted serious illnesses (Child 55). In one school, several children could die from diseases every year, even in years when there were no serious outbreaks.
Throughout the “century of assimilation”, from the late 19th century to the late 20th century, hundreds of native children were isolated from their families in the government’s attempt to adapt them to American culture. From 1969 to 1974 alone, between 25 to 35% of all Native American children in the United States were separated from their homes. They lived in adoptive care and boarding schools. In 1999, a process of healing and reconciliation was started in Maine by the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission was formed from Wabanaki tribal nations and state child welfare officials and was the first of its kind in the country. Its goals are to discover what happened to children that were separated from their families and to help these Native Americans heal by telling their stories to others (Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission). By giving these people a voice, the commission will help improve child welfare for native children in the future.
Child, Brenda J. Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families 1900-1940. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.
“Healing from Indian Child ‘Takings’ is in the Telling.” Editorial. Bangor Daily News, 14 Sept. 2012.
Lomawaima, Tsiania K. and Teresa L. McCarty. “To Remain an Indian.” New York: Teachers College Press, 2006.
“Maine, Tribes Seek Truth and Reconciliation.” Susan Sharon. Around the Nation. MPBN. Portland. 12 Mar. 2013.
“Maine Wabanaki-State Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” 2013. Web. 30 Oct. 2013.
2nd Place High School Division
The Design and Function of Maine Native American Hunting Tools
Legends were a very important part of Maine Native American life. The indigenous people used the legends to teach their children and share memories. Several of these legends explained another very important aspect of native life: hunting. One tale that signifies the importance of hunting is a tale about Rabbit, a lazy and vain animal that does not like to hunt, and how his Grandmother explains to him that if he doesn’t hunt they won’t have any food or hides for the winter. The Archaic people of Maine developed and perfected a highly organized and efficient set of hunting tools created from natural materials. They designed the bow and arrow that enabled them to hunt their prey from a safe distance, traps to catch food while their time was occupied doing other tasks, and canoes that allowed them to travel from one hunting location to the next very quickly.
The primary weapon used for hunting among Maine Native Americans was the bow and arrow. According to The Abenaki, the bow and arrow is called one of the “greatest achievements” of the native people because it allowed them to hunt large game from a safe distance, unlike the earlier spear which required the hunters to surprise their prey and kill it from a close vicinity. The method of making a bow varied from tribe to tribe, but the basic design and function stayed the same. Early accounts from fur traders said that in the northeast portion of the state, the Micmac people made their bows from unsplit maple saplings shaped with axes and knives (Bourque 300). Their bows strings were made from twisted sinews or strips of hide from the animals they hunted. Elsewhere in the state, bows were made primarily of ash and cedar with the occasional bow made from witch hazel. Arrows around the state were mostly made from split cedar shafts with a sharp flint head fastened to one end, and feathers tied to the other.
Another very successful hunting methods utilized by the Native Americans of Maine was trapping. Most of the fishing that was carried out among the tribes was done with traps or weirs, as they were called. A common fish weir that was used in the Micmac tribe consisted of a woven stick fence that was placed across a river. A hole with a woven reed net on the other side enabled the fish to swim through, and thus get caught (WPAFSC D-29). Traps used for catching land animals such as bear, deer, and moose consisted of either a noose attached to a tree sapling spring that lifted the animal off its feet or a heavy log that fell on the animal when it took the bait. The Algonquian people used another type of land trap called a deadfall trap, a steep sided pit that was disguised by shrubbery. An unaware animal would fall into the pit and get stuck, unable to climb up its steep sides. Overall the traps used by natives greatly increased their success at hunting. These traps enabled the natives to catch animals without having to be present, which gave them more time to complete other responsibilities.
What is often referred as the “ultimate achievement” of the Maine Native Americans is the canoe. The natives developed the canoe because they had no other form of travel such as the horse and cart that the Europeans had (Russell 195). Canoes were unique to the New England Native Americans and prior to their arrival the Europeans had never seen the likes of a canoe before; although, they quickly found that canoes were a very efficient means of travel. The principle form of canoe used in Maine was the birch bark canoe. It was used for travel and hunting. The Algonquian, Micmac, and Penobscot tribes all used birch bark canoes for these purposes. The canoe enabled the natives to venture away from the shore of a body of water to find better fishing grounds and travel quickly from location to location. The ordinary birch bark canoe consisted of a cedar strip frame bound with spruce roots and glued with spruce gum. The shell of the canoe was fashioned from a large piece of birch bark that was made waterproof by a layer of spruce gum over the outside and in cracks. In tribes closer to the coast, the dugout canoe was more common. This canoe was heavier and better suited to the turbulent waters of the ocean. A dugout canoe was simply made by hollowing out a log, usually white pine. Fire was often used to aid the process.
The early people of Maine used supplies from the natural world to create an organized and greatly proficient set of hunting tools they could use to capture their prey. The Native Americans of Maine spent generations designing these tools and it took centuries more to perfect them. They designed the bow and arrow and the canoe, two unique Native American handicrafts. They also had traps that enabled them to hunt while doing other jobs. By making these tools, Maine Native Americans could both save time and improve their lives. Even though these tools were so well designed and suited to their individual uses, by the end of the seventeenth century all of them were changed and influenced to some degree by the Europeans and the new materials that came with them.
Bourque, Bruce J. Twelve Thousand Years. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.
Calloway, Collin G. The Abenaki. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.
Russell, Howard S. Indian New England Before the Mayflower. Hanover: University Press of New England, 1980.
The Wabanakis of Maine and the Maritimes. Philadelphia: Wabanaki Program of the American Friends Service Committee, 1989.
1st Place Middle School Division
Native American Essay Contest
Passamaquoddy and Mi’kmaq Legends:
How They Were Used in Wabanaki History
One time dere was a fella call Anebees. Dat means Ant … Anyway, Anebees went away an’ he was gone a long time… He was gone so long everybody said; ‘Anebees is dead. Poor Anebees.’… Den the people see someone comin’ down the road. It was Anebees … Dat night … they all want to hear where Anebees has been … then Anebees sneeze … and when he sneeze he sneeze his head right off! Now nobody know where Anebees been.
– From “Anebees’ Trip”
Funny stories such as these were very commonly told in the Passamaquoddy and Mi’kmaq tribes. Until the late 1800s, these two tribes lived in the far northeast part of Maine as part of the Wabanaki nation, a collection of Maine Native American tribes. In these tribes, tales about how things came to be, or legends, mostly included creatures that lived in the North. In the Passamaquoddy and Mi’kmaq tribes, legends were told for many purposes. Three main purposes were to teach children lessons, to pass down knowledge and to entertain themselves.
Firstly, the Passamaquoddy and Mi’kmaq tribes used legends to teach their children lessons. If a child was being lazy, an elder might tell the legend “How Rabbit Lost His Tail,” about how Rabbit snapped his long, beautiful tail while fishing with it at a hole in the ice. He thought fishing with his tail was easier than trying to spear fish because he wasn’t very good at spearing fish. Instead, he tried to find the easiest way to fish because he did not want to work hard, and so got a short tail by doing so. This legend shows that one very rarely benefits from idleness. If a child was being selfish, an elder might tell it the story “Rabbit’s Plight,” which is about how Rabbit got his short tail, long legs, and split lip when he helped his friend out of a hole and twisted a belt for her. In the end, he benefits from helping her because his short tail doesn’t get caught in bushes, he can hop faster with long legs, and he can smell clover better with a split lip. These benefits demonstrate that one can and will profit from helping others. These two legends were used to explain to children their wrongdoings.
Secondly, the Passamaquoddy and Mi’kmaq tribes told stories to pass down the elders’ wisdom to their children. If an adult wanted their children to learn from that adult’s mistakes, they might tell a story of events leading up to that error and how they fixed it. One of the most widespread types of knowledge passed down from generation to generation was legends specific to each tribe. These legends were about that tribe’s theory of how the Earth was created and how certain things came to be. It was important elders tell the next generation these stories because if they didn’t, the unique heritage of that tribe would eventually die out.
Thirdly, Native Americans told stories to entertain themselves. The most common manner was when a family would sit around a fire at night and enjoy themselves before bed. Legends were also told if there was a big gathering of families. The men would tell stories together while smoking a pipe and the women might tell stories together while crafting. The children, meanwhile, would have fun and play games. If a family were the hosts to a guest, they would tell stories to entertain their guest. In this way, Maine Native Americans told legends to amuse themselves.
In conclusion, Maine Native Americans used tales and legends for numerous reasons. Two uses were as methods to teach their children lessons and to pass down their knowledge, but they also used legends for a much less serious purpose such as enjoyment. In this manner, legends were a major part of Wabanaki history. Today legends are still used in Maine Native American tribes, although they are used much less than in the past because of the increase in Native Americans that live the European-American way of life. Even though they are used less frequently than in the past, legends still are and should always remain a part of Wabanaki heritage, or people won’t be able to experience these unique stories in the future.
Beck, Horace P. Gluskap the Liar and Other Indian Tales. Freeport: The Bond Wheelwright Company, 1966.
Elk, Molly Spotted. Katahdin: Wigwam Tales of the Abanaki Tribe. Orono: The Maine Folklife Center, 2003.
“Native American Legends (P-S).” First People – The Legends. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.
Mead, Alice and Arnold Neptune. Giants of the Dawnland: Ancient Wabanaki Tales. Cumberland Center: Loose Cannon Press, 1996.
“Myths and Folklore of the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Tribes.” Sacred Texts. Evinity Publishing Inc. 2011. Web.20 Oct. 2013.
The Wabanakis of Maine and the Maritimes. Philadelphia: The Wabanaki Program of the American Friends Service Committee, 1989.
2nd Place Middle School Division
Windsor Elementary School
The Legends of Glooskap
Glooskap is a cultural hero of the Wabanaki tribes of the Abenki, Penobscot, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Micmac people. His named is spelled many different ways, for example: Glooscap, Gluskape, Kluskap, and Kuluskap, because these tribes spoke slightly different languages, and the languages were traditionally unwritten. Consequently, English speaking settlers would spell it however it sounded to them at the time.
Glooskap actually means “liar.” According to legends, Glooskap got his name after lying about his secret weakness to an evil spirit, and escaping from a murder plot.
Since stories about Glooskap have been told in so many different communities, details about his life tend to vary a lot. In some stories Glooskap is said to have been created directly by the Great Spirit, but in others he was born to a mother who died in childbirth. Glooskap also has a grandmother Woodchuck. In most tribal traditions, it’s usually his adopted grandmother, but sometimes his natural grandmother. Also, in some stories it says he has a brother (an older brother Mikumwesu or Mateguas, a younger brother Malsum, or adopted brother Marten). In some legends, Glooskap created the Wabanaki tribes himself, while in others, it was the Great Spirit, who created them, and Glooskap stepped in to teach them the arts of civilization.
Glooskap is always portrayed as a hero and a good caretaker and a teacher of the Wabanaki people. Sometimes he plays the role as a transformer, changing monsters into harmless animals and adapting the landscape for the liking of the people. He also plays the role of a trickster, but in a humorous sense. Glooskap does not commit crimes or chase women. Also, at the end of every myth, it is told that Glooskap says he is leaving, but will return if they need him.
In one myth it tells about Glooskap and the baby. Glooskap the warrior was very pleased with himself because he had fought and won several battles. He then boasted to a woman, “Nobody can beat me!” “Really?” said the woman. “I know someone who can beat you, his name is Wasis.” Glooskap has never heard of this Wasis. He immediately wanted to meet him and fight him. So he was taken to the woman’s village. The woman pointed to a baby who was sitting and sucking a piece of sugar on the floor of the wigwam. “This is Wasis- he is little but very strong.” Then Glooskap went up to the baby and said, “I am Glooskap fight me!” He shouted. Puny Wasis gazed at him for a moment and burst out in tears, “Waaah! Waaah!” Glooskap had never heard such a sound. He danced a war dance and sang some war songs. Then Wasis even screamed louder than before! Glooskap couldn’t take it, so he burst out of the wigwam covering his ears. After he ran a few miles, he stopped and listened, and the baby was still screaming! Glooskap the fearless was terrified. He ran on and on until he was out of sight of the woman’s village, and was never seen again in that village.
In another story, Glooskap’s grandmother, the Woodchuck, makes him a hunting bag by plucking the hairs from her stomach. Glooskap tells all the animals in the forest to get in the bag. Then he carries it back to his grandmother, declaring that they will never have to worry about food again. Grandmother Woodchuck then scolds Glooskap, telling him that if he takes all the animals, there will be none left for the other people. Glooskap returns the animals to the forest, having learned his lesson. In this story children learned to be respectful for the people around them, as well as the animals they hunted.
There is another story telling of the story of Glooskap and his brother Malsum. Two brothers lived at the beginning of time. Glooskap represented the righteousness; he made food, plants, animals and humans. Malsum represented destruction; he made rocks, thickets and poisonous animals. Malsum tried to find magic to kill his brother, Glooskap. He asked Glooskap, “What is your weakness; what would kill you?” Not suspecting Malsum’s evil intention, Glooskap replied, “an owl feather.” To this Malsum accidentally admitted that a fern root would kill him. One night Malsum took the feather of an owl’s wing and used it in place of an arrowhead to kill his brother. Glooskap fell to his death, but he summoned his own magic and was reborn again. Believing that it was Malsum who tried to kill him, Glooskap plucked a large-rooted stem. With it he struck down Malsum and his evil magic. Malsum didn’t have the power to be reborn like Gluskap; instead he became a wolf.
These are the legends of Glooskap and his stories can be told in many different ways and contribute to Maine in many different ways. The first story about Glooskap and the baby teaches children not to boast, and not to be cocky. The second story talks about Glooskap overhunting animals, and it refers to Maine because of the hunting and the woodchucks. This story teaches younger children that they need to be respectful to other people and even animals as well, and about conservation. In the last story about Glooskap and his brother Malsum, it relates to Maine because of the fern root and flowering weeds. This story refers to good and evil and teaches younger children that good always wins in the end.