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Last Updated August 1998
Abenaki Historical Background
The Abenaki People originally lived throughout much of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Currently, they are recognized only as "Canadian Indians", with the exception of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, & Maliseet (all Eastern Abenaki) in Maine. Our focus is on Western Maine, which is loosely defined as west of the Kennebec River.
Today, Abenaki populations in the Northeast are often referred to as "Invisible People". A statement that is especially poignant in Western Maine. We find fleeting glimpses of them in early town histories. They soon fade into the shadows. Their identity, language, history, and culture hidden from sight.
Our historians could not "see" the Abenaki. They wrote about Indian wars from Euroamerican view points. They described inaccurate, often negative, and sometimes highly romanticized pictures of Indians. They used labels such as noble savage, uncivilized barbarian, and lazy worthless thieves.
They told us that the Androscoggin, Piscataqua, Presumscot, Sandy, and Saco River Abenaki were gone from the forests, lakes, and rivers of their homeland in Western Maine, exterminated by war and disease or removed to Canada.
But how can this be? Some of the nicest people we know are Abenaki and they live right here in Western Maine. Are they ghosts? No. Are they immigrants from Canada? Some are, but NOT all of them. Many of these families have been here for generations. They are very real, with feelings, needs, and dreams just like any other human being. However, they do seem to be invisible.
Why can't we see them? Marge Bruchac, said it best when she used the phrase "they learned to hide in plain sight". In order to survive in their homeland, they had to hide their identity. Something which they apparently learned to do very well.
The Maine frontier was embroiled in colonial wars for almost 100 years. The French and the English were political and religious enemies. The Abenaki People held much of the land between these two European rivals. The English wanted Abenaki land. The French wanted Abenaki souls for their Pope and soldiers for their battles.
The French often supplied the Abenaki with weapons, supplies, and military leaders to wage war on the English. The warriors' families were welcomed by Jesuit priests at missions set up for them. The Abenaki were good warriors. The shout "Indians" brought fear to the hearts of frontier settlers for many generations.
The wounds of war ran deep. Too deep for the Abenaki and English to openly accept each other. But for many Abenaki, love for their homeland (N'dakina) ran even deeper. Many did go to Canada at one time or another. Some never left. Many of those that left did not stay away long. One by one, families returned to their homeland.
They intermarried and joined the Euroamerican communities which were springing up like wild flowers all over Western Maine. Gradually, they became an invisible force in the history and development of the region. The Abenaki did not disappear from New England, only from our sight.
Today, the descendants of the Abenaki People ask questions. Why do our elders hide their identity ? Why can't we find our Native ancestors ? Who are we ? What is our place in history ? These are very tough questions. The answers are very complex.
The wounds of war have been replaced with the wounds of obscurity. It is time to begin the healing process. It is time to search for pieces of the puzzle. It is time for Abenaki People to step forth from the shadows. Finally, it is time for the Euroamerican People to recognize the role of the Abenaki in this region's history.
As Abenaki descendants speak out, our vision is improved. However, there is still much work to be done before the picture becomes clear.
Modern scholars are rediscovering the Abenaki people throughout the Northeast. This is being accomplished by combining French, English, and Dutch documents with personal diaries, captivity stories, family genealogies, and oral tradition.
The Abenaki story is a giant jigsaw puzzle with most of it's pieces scattered by the winds of time. By gathering existing documented information, we begin to make sense of the pieces we have. By researching family histories, we find missing pieces. By digging through old reports, ledgers, and journals, we find pieces we were not aware existed.
By putting these pieces together, we begin to understand the role the Abenaki people played in the history of the Northeast and the methods they used to survive to present?
Our interest at Ne-Do-Ba is in adding new chapters to the history of this region. Chapters that will define who the Abenaki people are, what sacrifices were made in order to survive, and what contributions they made to local communities.