2018 Winning Essays

2018 Winning Essays

Native American logo banner image

First Place High School Division

Samantha Siemerling
10th Grade - Maine Virtual Academy

"Indigenous Arts of Maine Native Americans"

Do you ever wonder about the art works of the earliest Maine Native Americans? These forms of art were made, used and traded far differently than they are now. Black ash baskets were much more common, and made without our modern day cutting tools. Quillwork was done with bone, awls and sinew. Wampum beads were made only out of shells and were a form of currency with the colonists. Maine Native Americans have many beautiful and unique forms of art, including black ash baskets, quillworks, and wampum beads, a type of jewelry.

Black ash baskets are woven baskets made of wood from black ash trees. Another name for them are splint baskets. This name is due to the way the wood is splinted, or cut, before being woven into a basket. Black ash baskets were primarily made for personal use. They were used for storing and transporting water and food, as well as for symbolic significance. Oftentimes the baskets would be woven with religious symbols on them. They were certainly one of the necessities for early Maine Native Americans. Black ash baskets were one of the first things female children learned to make. When they were traded, they were traded between communities for a large assortment of goods. Some of those goods were fur, bone and even other art works. Nowadays these baskets are made for art purposes rather than necessity. Black ash baskets were one of the most common types of woven products for early Maine Native Americans.

Quillwork was another form of Maine Native American woven material. While quills were sometimes used to make baskets, their main use was for decoration on other items. Quillwork was done by plucking a porcupine skin, then dying and drying the quills. Afterward, the quills would be used for birch bark containers and moccasins. Most commonly they were attached to clothes, headpieces and staffs. It was a popular form of art for early Native Americans, but the practice has mostly died out in recent years due to a lack of purpose for the finished piece. Quillwork was traded in the same way black ash baskets were. That is, they were traded between communities for other goods such as animal skins and herbs.

There were no trading posts for early Maine Native Americans, but they did have a special form of currency for trading. Wampum beads were used as currency for most Maine Native Americans. They were principally made of white and purple clam shells. The beads were made by rounding the shells, then rolling them on a grinding stone with sand and water to smoothen them. If they were to be used for jewelry or decoration they were pierced and strung with sinew. Wampum beads were used for a wide variety of purposes, above all was symbolism. The beads were used for religious ceremonies and as a certificate of office for the chief and his family. They were also used to signal authority in other cases. For example, a messenger would be given a string of wampum beads as proof he was authorized to deliver that message. Wampum beads only began being used as currency between the colonists and the Native Americans when the colonists arrived.

In conclusion, there are multiple forms of art exclusively from the early Native Americans. Nowadays, many Native Americans practice these arts as a way to connect with their heritage and culture, but outside of Native American communities many of these arts have died out. It is imperative we acknowledge the beautiful and unique forms of art from the early Maine Native Americans, such as black ash baskets, quillwork and wampum beads.

Back to top


Parker Award

1st Place Middle School Division

Jeremy Parker
7th Grade - Windsor Elementary School

"The Passamaquoddy Native American of Maine"

The Passamaquoddy (Pass-uh-ma-kwah-dee) Indians are a Native American tribe located in eastern Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. They have been around for about 10,000 years, long before the white man came. They were a part of the Paleo-Indians, which are believed to be the first people to inhabit America. This Native American tribe is a part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, which is made up of the Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot, Abenaki, and the Passamaquoddy tribes. The Confederacy ensures that the tribes will not fight or have angry conflicts, and has been around since about 1606. It was created because the Native Americans of Maine actually fought each other over land and other disagreements.

The Passamaquoddy name comes from the word Peskotomuhkati or Pestomuhkati, which comes from Peskotomakat which means pollock spearer. Spearing the fish was the tradictioal way to catch the pollock. The Passamaquoddy people spoke a Maliseet-Passamaquoddy based language, but now only some elders speak the language. It is called this because the two tribes spoke the same language but with different accents.

One thing that is misunderstood about all of the Wabanaki Tribes is that they did not live in teepees! For example, the Passamaquoddy people lived in wigwams as did most of the Wabanaki people. Their wigwams were small and round or rectangular in shape. They were usually around eight to ten feet in height, but longhouses could be a whopping 200 feet long, twenty feet wide, and around twenty feet tall. The Passamaquoddy Tribes normally did not move around much so they could build these sturdy shelters.

Due to the harsh weather of Maine winters, the Passamaquoddy people had to dress in the warm fur and skins of beaver and moose. The women also wore long skirts and dresses with removable sleeves like some of the other women from other tribes while the men wore leggings and breechcloths most of the time. Wearing their hair long was not uncommon. The also wore moccasin boots.

The Passamaquoddy hunted in the great woods of western Maine using items like bows and arrows, spears, and clubs. They hunted for skins and meat while only taking what they needed to survive. They handcrafted weapons from local trees to hunt moose, deer, otter, bear, and muskrat. They used double or specially made spears to fish for salmon, bass, and sturgeon. If they could get their hands on whale, lobster, shellfish, and seabirds or their eggs, they would eat them.

Farming is another important part of the Passamaquoddy way of living. They planted corn, beans, and squash. In addition to farming, they also gathered wild grapes, fiddleheads, and roots. Blueberries and alewives were also popular in the Passamaquoddy diet. They stored their corn and other items in bark lined pits to keep things cool during summer months. The Passamaquoddy also made a sweet treat. It was maple sugar, or course! They made it like we do today right from a maple tree’s sap.

The Passamaquoddy is and was known for their birch-bark canoes, as was most of the tribes in Maine. A canoe was their main transportation for riding up and down rivers and lakes. To also move heavy items whey would use pack dogs, as there were no horses at this time.

The Passamaquoddy is also known for their arts and crafts, including basketry, jewelry, and beadwork. Tribes in Maine designed magical displays of beadwork in jewelry. The Passamaquoddy were also known for their wampum. They would sometimes make wampum belts that would tell stories or show things of meaning.

All Passamaquoddy Tribes had a shaman. A shaman was one who healed and helped sickly or hurt people in the tribe. They might cure them by blowing, chanting or possibly sucking on the person. The Passamaquoddy Tribe are believers of the story of Glooscap or Gluskap, which is a story of how man was created from dust.

The children of the tribe helped the parents in the fields, but when they weren’t helping, what were they doing? They could have played games of course. The kids would play a ball kicking game, a version of football, and something along the line of lacrosse.

When Europeans first came from England and Spain Samuel De Champlain came across the Passamaquoddy Indians. He was their first contact with someone from overseas. As more Europeans came the Passamaquoddy people caught different types of sicknesses, diseases, and other health problems. Getting these diseases was detrimental to the different tribes and caused the loss of 75-90% of the population. Fortunately, the Passamaquoddy Tribe did not die off and are still living on today.

Today the Passamaquoddy Indians live on Indian Township and Pleasant Point Reservations in Maine. Pleasant Point’s estimated population is around 715 people and around 683 people live in Indian Township today. Nowadays most of the Passamaquoddy live in houses instead of the traditional wigwam. Adding to that, most of them also wear jeans and not their traditional clothing. The Passamaquoddy Indians own over 200,000 acres in Maine, which is over 312 square miles. And while it seemed that their traditions and ways of life might be getting lost a bit, there was one thing that happened to remind everyone of their long history. In 2011 at Meddybemps Lake, archeologists dug up the remains of old Passamaquoddy items, tools, and resources. Some of the items were estimated to be 9,000 years old! The exact place is called N’tolonapemk or Our Relatives Place.

Even though my dad and his family once lived near Indian Township, I didn’t know a lot about the Passamaquoddy. However, researching and writing about this tribe has been on of the best and most informative things I have done in my life as a writer. I admire this tribe and its people, and most of all I hope that they can hold onto their traditions for all the years to come to share not only with their children, but with people like me.

Works Cited

Passamaquoddy Tribe @ Indian Township, www.passamaquoddy.com/?page_id=24.

“Glooscap.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Oct. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glooscap.

“N’tolonapemk Our Relatives’ Place.”  Abbe Museum,www.abbemuseum.org/blog/2017/2/7/ntolonapemk-our-relatives-place.

“Native Languages of the Americas:  Passamaquoddy.” Verb-Based Languages,www.native-languages.org/passamaquoddy.htm.

“Passamaquoddy.”  Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Aug. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passamaquoddy.

“Passamaquoddy.”  Ohio River – New World Encyclopedia, New World Encyclopidia,   www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Passamaquoddy.

“Passamaquoddy (Native Americans of the Northeast Woodlands).” Whatwhenhow RSS, What-when-how.com/native-americans/passamaquoddy-native-americans-of-the-northeast-woodlands/.

“Passamaquoddy Indian Fact Sheet.”  Facts for Kids:  Cherokee Indians (Cherokees),  www.bigorrin.org/passamaquoddy_kids.htm.

“Passamaquoddy Indian Township Reservation.”  Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Aug. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passamaquoddy_Indian_Township_Reservation.

“Passamaquoddy Pleasant Point Reservation.”  Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 May 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passamaquoddy_Pleasant_Point_Reservation.

“Wabanaki Confederacy.”  Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Sept. 2018,   en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabanaki_Confederacy.

Back to top


Gay Award

2nd Place Middle School Division

Caleb Gay
7th Grade - Windsor Elementary School

"Weapons of the Dawnsmen"

As I watched the massive 200 pound buck pass by, I gripped the thin wooden atlatl tighter in my hands. My palms were moist to the point where I almost lost my grip on it. If I slay this deer, I would possess enough antlers to make myself a new knife, more spear points and more arrowheads. Suddenly, the buck stopped. I waited minutes that seemed like hours for him to turn broadside. This was the food my family depended on me to provide. If I were to fail, my family would merely have the crops in the garden to eat. Soon, those crops would disappear under a thick blanked of paper white snow. We might die out because of my failure.

This is what life was like back in the times before guns, traps, and even before Maine was Maine!

In those times, the Wabanaki Tribes had many types of weapons, but the three most important ones are the bow and arrow, the atlatl, and the root war club.

Works Cited

Atatal, Atatal, The Abbe Museum.

Britanica, The editors of Encyclopaedia.  “Spear-Thrower.”  Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 2 Aug. 2013,   www.britannica.com/technology/spear-thrower.

“The Penn Museum.”  Column, Penn Museum,   www.penn.museum/blog/museum/living-tradition-the-penobscot-root-club/.

“Primitive Archer.”  Deer Toe Bone Fish Hooks,   www.primitivearcher.com/smf/index.pho?topic=10369.0.

Wilbur, C. Keith.  The New England Indians.  Chelsea House, 1997.

The first weapon, the bow and arrow, has been used by almost every tribe on the continent. There are numerous variations of the bow that tribes use, but Maine has a unique style bow.

The bow and arrow that the Wabanaki Tribes (The Maliset, Mi’kmaq, Abenaki, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot) used, consisted of not only one, but two bows! It had one normal bow, plus a slightly smaller bow on the back to increase power. This was called the Penobscot Bow and was crafted from wood. Some types included ash, oak, hickory, and witch hazel. The bow was typically five to six feet in length and could shoot effectively at an extensive range. This made the bow useful for hunting and combat.

The arrows that were used with this weapon were crafted out of small hardwood saplings and were usually a little over three ft. long. They were tapered down from the tip to the end and had feather fletching at the end to fine tune the trajectory. They often used eagle or turkey feathers for this and glued them on the arrow with the sticky residue that comes from pine trees, better known as pine pitch. The fletching helped the arrow fly straight and true often resulting in a clean kill.

The arrow points were usually made from rock like quartz, quartzite, felsite, and flint. There were many styles of arrowheads, but some of the more popular were: side notched, corner notched, corners removed, triangular, and diamond.

The arrow was notched at the end, to help steady it on the bowstring. Every so often the notch was rounded, for a better finger grip. The bowstring was made by winding fibers from young trees together, to form a stout cord. This cord was then tied around notches in the tapered ends of the bow, called x-notches. This helped secure the string, but made it equally as easy to unstring and repair, or replace the string completely.

Another weapon that the Wabanakis used, was called the atlatl and was more frequently known as a spear-thrower. These were used long before the innovation of bows and was used to hurl spears at more tremendous speeds than could be thrown. This made it very effective at hunting animals as large as mammoths and mastodons, before they went extinct. After that, they were used primarily to hunt deer and moose.

The atlatl consisted of a lightweight shaft with a notch at the end for balancing the dart. These atlatls were made of wood, bone or antler. They had a small weight at the center of the atlatl, known as a banner stone, that helped increase the velocity and accuracy of the dart. The darts that were thrown were typically four to nine feet in length, had feather fletching, and had stone spearheads. The feathers used for fletching were typically turkey and eagle feathers, similar to the arrows that they made. The spear points traditionally remain the same as the arrowheads, but maybe a bit bigger. Once more, the favored ones were: eared, side notched, corner notched, corner removed, and diamond. These were made out of quartz, quartzite, felsite and flint rocks that they found, and then chipped into shape with a process known as flintknapping. When the Europeans came to Maine, however, the Native Americans had access to steel and iron, and so that’s what they started to make them out of.

Finally, the Wabanaki people used the root club. This weapon was used for war. This weapon was a stick with a rounded head, and sharp, pointy roots sticking out the top. This was used to bludgeon enemies and weighed two to three pounds.

The root club was made by uprooting a birch tree and preserving the roots. They would then cut the club out of the trunk and chip off the smaller weaker roots. Once this was done they would chip out intricate designs on the head, to make it more festive. They would make it more colorful by staining the wood with dyes that they made from native materials. The clubs were also used for ceremonial purposes.

In the days before Maine was known as Maine, the Wabanaki people had to develop innovative ways to live. They developed many genius inventions that are still used today. This has become more important to me since learning I am part Native American. I have had a growing interest in the ways and history of Native Americans. I want to know more about how the Wabanaki people lived, and talked, and their culture. I want to remind people that, although we may not know it, many of the things we have today, as well as the stories we tell, had their basis in the minds of the Native Americans of our past. It is those ideas that have created a future for all people. And most importantly, it is those ideas that we must keep alive.