An Upriver Passamaquoddy, published by Tilbury House, is both inspiring and troubling. But I must begin by thanking Allen Sockabasin for writing this book which is both a memoir and a challenge.
Allen tells us about the 20th century experiences of Maine’s Passamaquoddy people, from the good days to the very ugly rascist days. At one point, he reports that some Passamaquoddy children were wrenched away from their families and given to white people throughout the state.
That reminded me of my Dad’s story of a Passamaquoddy kid Dad’s age who ended up on a farm near Dad’s and became a good friend. Dad kept in touch with that fellow throughout his life, and if I remember correctly, the fellow returned to his tribe and became its chief.
I especially enjoyed the many photos in the book, and even recognized a few of the baskets tribal members made, because Dad had one of them (and I have it now).
Growing up, Allen’s family lived off the land, eating lots of wild game, including muskrats. That surprised me, because I trapped muskrats when I was in high school, but we never thought to eat them. I wish we had!
I (of course) really enjoyed the chapter titled “The Traditional Ways,” about their many hunting adventures. “The state’s game laws were always considered rules of the white man and were generally ignored by Native people who hunted for the sake of daily survival… The traditional hunters of our village would never take an animal that they could not eat, nor a doe that was carrying fawns, nor a yearling. They would never kill a large animal – a deer or moose – and just take the hindquarters, leaving the rest to spoil.” Good for them.
Allen profiles lots of people, including tribal leaders, talented makers of crafts, hunters, and even musicians. You might think, from his descriptions, that he lived in poverty, but he remembers those days as rich and rewarding.
However, as white folks move into and take over the state, lots of things go wrong for the Passamaquoddy people. And Allen rightly laments the loss of their language and traditions.
I read this book while Linda and I spent time on Canada’s Campobello Island, just over the bridge from Lubec. That seemed to be just the right place, when I read about the long trip taken by Tomah Joseph, “the most well known artist” of Allen’s village. “He achieved international recognition through his famous birchbark artworks and his relationship with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his family.”
Joseph would take the long trip down the St. Croix River to Eastport and then cross the ocean to Campobello, to sell his wares.
Allen himself has had a remarkable life, some of which he shares in the book, but much of which you’ll read in his biography at the end of the book. “I’m over sixty years old,” writes Allen, “and I’m just now beginning to understand and accept that my Creator created me to be a proud Passamaquoddy man and until he calls me, I need to live and play a positive role for our children.”
An admirable goal, and this book strongly moves him in that direction.