Monday, August 18, 2008

Downeast Trip Day #4 - Pleasant Point Indian Days to Grand Lake Stream

After a morning walk around Eastport, which reminded me of my hometown of Farmington, and a couple of hours of combing the beaches at Prince Cove, we drove to the annual Indian Days celebration at the Passamaquoddy Reservation in nearby Pleasant Point.

We spent a picturesque and delightful afternoon with Lisa Sockabasin and some friends. With views of and breezes from the water and islands on both sides of a large field, the setting was perfect for such a gathering. While enjoying some Indian tacos and Tom Francis bread, we chatted with various friends, including Representative Donald Soctomah, who represents the Passamaquoddy Tribe in the Maine Legislature, and sits on the Health and Human Services Committee. Rep Soctomah is well recognized for his many efforts to preserve Passamaquoddy history, which is especially important because of the oral history tradition that is easily lost in these days of reliance on technology.

We also chatted with Sandra Yarmal and some others from the Pleasant Point Health Center, one of five Indian Health Centers in Maine (the others being a Passamaquoddy health center at Indian Township, a Penobscot health center at Indian Island, a Maliseet health center in Houlton, and a Mic Mac health center in Presque Isle).

The Passamaquoddy have lived in the watershed area of the St. Croix (formerly the Passamaquoddy River) for over 12,000 years. Those living on the Canadian side of the river are know as the St. Croix or Schoodic Band. Those living on the US side of the river have two reservations – one at Pleasant Point (the Sipayik members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe) and one at Indian Township (Peter Dana Point) near Princeton, Maine.

According to the Passamaquoddy website, a total of 3,369 tribal members are listed on the tribal census rolls in Maine with about two-thirds listed at Pleasant Point, and one-third at Indian Township. The US Census data for 2006 only lists 1,629 Native Americans in Washington County. This kind of discrepancy in data unfortunately is too common when trying to track health issues among our racial and ethnic minority populations. For instance, a 2005 study conducted by the then Bureau of Health (now Maine CDC) and Indian health centers in Maine showed multiple types of data quality errors apparently contributing to underestimates of death rates for certain diseases among American Indians in Maine. These errors not only included incorrect recording of race on death certificates but also errors in data coding, data entry and analysis. Complicating these errors is a lack of standardized data quality procedures (such as double data entry and automatic edit checking) in our Vital Records office because of a lack of staff and funds. These quality processes were in place until the early 1990s when Vital Records was depleted of much of its resources. Unfortunately, we are now seeing more of the effects of this depletion, including the undercounting of a number minority populations and the inability to accurately track health issues confronting them.

An afternoon visit to the nearby Waponahki Museum was very worthwhile. With Passamaquoddy history and art on display, there are exhibits that interest any age.
Coincidently and delightfully, we ran into a friend Ben Levine and his partner, Julia Schulz, at the museum. Hailing from Rockland, Ben is a filmmaker and Julia a cultural anthropologist and linguist, who are working with the Passamaquoddy Tribe and fluent Passamaquoddy speakers on a project to document and preserve this endangered language.

While at the museum we also ran into Fredda Paul a practitioner of traditional Passamaquoddy medicine, including the use of herbs, hands-on healing, and other methods he learned as a child from his grandmother. Having had a long-standing interest in multiple healing methods, especially sparked from living and traveling in Africa and Asia and observing a number of successful non-western healings, I wished I had more lifetimes to fully study them. I am humbled by the dimensions of healing, and how western medicine teaches one of a number of paradigms. Fredda is a well-respected healer, including having received an honorary degree from Unity College last year. I greatly appreciate the time he spent with me sharing some of his life’s story.

After a wonderful afternoon at Pleasant Point, the children and I drove north to Grand Lake Stream. While approaching Calais, I saw Representative Anne Perry driving south, and figured she was probably heading to Pleasant Point for Indian Days as well. We stopped briefly at the St. Croix Island International Historic Site, which is the site of the first French attempt to settle in North America in 1604, and included the famous explorer, Samuel Champlain. During the first winter, nearly half of the 79 members of the expedition died (mostly due to scurvy, from insufficient vitamin C). Thanks to trading with nearby Native Americans in the spring, the survivors were able to gain strength, and eventually moved on to permanently settle in Nova Scotia.

We arrived in Grand Lake Stream just in time to watch a glorious sunset over the lake. My childhood friend Kurt Cressey and his wife Kathy own and run the Pine Tree Store there, so we spent much of the evening catching up on news of family and friends. We finally settled into a nearby cabin and sleep after a wonderful Washington County day!

Passamaquoddy Pleasant Point

Passamaquoddy Indian Township

Houlton Band of Maliseets

Aroostook Band of Micmacs

Penobscot Indian Nation

Underestimation of Cardiovascular Disease Mortality Among Maine American Indians: The Role of Procedural and Data Errors

Abbe Museum of Maine's Native American Heritage

The Wabanaki Center at the University of Maine —

St. Croix Island National Historic Site

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