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The Forgotten Americans

"You people have almost destroyed us, but we're coming back to our own way, our own way of thinking."

By David Dalquist

The following piece is drawn from a visit with a family on the Passamaquoddy Reservation on the Canadian border in Maine. The Passamaquoddy, along with the Penobscot tribe, are now suing to regain possession of more than half the land of the state of Maine.

They are strewn across a desolate landscape along the Maine coast like pebbles on the beach. Looking like scattered desert plants, wooden shacks and suburban pre-fabs just out of the ground with random incongruity. The paths have no names, few of the houses are numbered. This is an Indian village, changed, yet unchanged from centuries ago. Children play, dogs breed wild. Noises, the restless sea, the rush of a lonely car, wind. People are building.

The Passamaquoddies lived in the wooded foothills beyond the village when they first met white men. Today, 400 years after they encountered settlers from Canada, they have been pushed into this inlet near the sea, where they now live in the hope of their resurrection.

Eastport, Maine is just across the bay from New Brunswick. It is cold there in October. The foliage spins colors in the mind's eye that dazzle and edify, that warm the senses.

At 5 a.m. you wait for the sunrise. Your hands prickle from the subzero cold. You turn on the radio--there is nothing out there. Just scratches.

Standing at Eastport's tip, you are the first American to see the sun rise on October 8, 1977. This is the country's easternmost point, tucked away where the suns and moons are never shrouded by the city's dust.

Indians have constructed primitive fishing nets called "weirs" in the shallow waters, recalling ways of an older day. The hampered cry of the whale hangs in the night, preserved; sharks swim in the bay.

The only tall tree on the reservation stands impassively, a salient chronicle; a well-weathered, persevering Indian, threatened by the bare earth around him but still alive. Indians have always been here.

Over 500 Passamaquoddies live on this 99-acre strip of land. It is all the white man has left them. They wear white man's clothes, speak the white man's language, as well as their own, indulge in his pleasures, suffer from his problems, and learn from it all. The pain of time's cultural incarceration has grown numb; undaunted, they are happy, and they are building.

"I hate to tell you this, but this is the way I really feel. You people have almost destroyed us, but we are coming back to our own way, our own way of thinking," the Lieutenant Governor of the reservation intimates, with a deep, buttery, Indian voice which somehow dissolves all doubts. Raymond Moore is fortyish, with a big, barrel-like frame from which his voice bellows, interpreted by a benign stern face. Raymond Moore is the kind of man who can tell you stories that scare children and men equally.

"This has been 'reservation' since the 15th, 16th century. Now for instance like, you take that cross over there, by the ledge...now see that cross over there? Well there's one big cross and there's three small crosses. Now I hate to say this, but I think as far as history goes, that's where three missionaries were hung at that time." The bodies were dangling from the cross up on a hill, overlooking the bay which was populated by French ships. The devoutly passive Passamaquoddies lost control, erupted--telling their intruders to go away, saying they didn't want their Catholic religion.

"At that time, we didn't accept Christianity. We worshipped whatever we had. If the hunt was successful, we worshipped the hunt. We worshipped the sun, we worshipped the moon, we worshipped the ground we walk on, and I think it should be that way. This is the way I feel. Because we have believed from way back," Moore says. Today, most Passamaquoddies are Catholics. Some say they are Catholics before they are Indians. The reservation's public school, which holds classes up to the eighth grade, was a parochial school five years ago. Nuns still work at the school. Peering down on the school and the adjacent rectory from a knoll is the old iron cross. But there is no hostility.

"Well, I'll put it this way...we've lost it [our Indian culture], but it's coming back now. See the reason why I said we've lost it is because there was a certain stage there, a pause, where we say this next generation will stop and embrace whatever there is that the white man has adapted to us, and then the method they used we didn't like it, and we want to go back, because we want to be the way we are.

"For instance like, you take 40 years ago, there was no such thing as money. We didn't have these modern furnaces. Everything was based on trade for food. Me myself, I think if we were left this way we would have been much better off than what we are now. We have adapted almost to white culture."

Converting to a religion was much easier for the Passamaquoddies than converting a way of being.

David Francis, director of the Pleasant Point Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) Program, says Catholicism and the old Indian faiths share fundamental values.

"We respect life, the nature...we worship land, to me it is sacred. Take care of the land, it keeps us alive. We are from nature, too, there is a balance."

Francis is an easy-talking elder of the tribe. He has known the reservation since childhood. Plucking details from the back of his mind, he can feel the expanding encroachment of white ways into Passamaquoddy culture.

"We went along with the white man over the years...when I was a kid, sheez, everybody talked Passamaquoddy, very little contact with the white man. We lived in...[shanties], we did whatever farm work there was, planted a garden, get income from making fish-scale baskets.

"I missed the old way of living," he says halfheartedly. "We were more happier, there was a sense of community. People stayed on the reservation and helped each other out. People went hungry together, and everyone chipped in. Alcohol wasn't much a problem here then...no cause. But now we are gradually losing our language and traditions."

Today, the Indians have set their priorities. They are building suburban pre-fabs to house their large families efficiently (often as large as 13 or 14), they send their children to Eastport High School after eighth grade, although only a quarter of the entering Indian freshmen graduate.

A typical house is decorated with colonial furniture, plastic fruit, fluffy floral armchairs, commercial and authentic Indian crafts. The television forms the pulpit of the living room: children crowd around to absorb its technicolor wisdom. In the driveway is a small car, an old Honda Super Hawk; bicycles lie on the back lawn, dogs mope around the fear porch. Raymond Moore and his wife bake some bread in the kitchen. Mrs. Moore, looking fresh, models tight blue jeans and a printed t-shirt. A girl short-cuts through the back yard filled with dogs, wearing a "Smoke Colombian" t-shirt, a headdressed chief puckering a thorough hit over her breasts.

David Francis says, "The only way to get ahead is to get educated and keep Indian values, language, arts and crafts."

Cliff Saunders '69, a Sioux who is the executive director of the Boston Indian Council (BIC), clearly defines the immediate goals most of his people have set.

"We want to ensure that Indian people will survive as Indian people. The services here (at BIC) aren't designed to turn Indians into whites. They're meant to teach Indians how to cope with white culture and be Indian at the same time."

Francis Nicholas is the thin, terse man who is the governor of the reservation. His wispy appearance is hardly that of the first-rate green beret he once was. He is a reserved, silent man, saying only that he was in "the service" before his three years as governor of Pleasant Point.

The governor says "education is a top priority," that adequate education is the only way his people will cope with the white world. "We don't like them to coop [live] on the reservation," he says, "but we like them to learn and teach the people on the reservation here the things they have learned."

Cliff Saunders lived in Lowell House when he was at Harvard. He capitalized on his opportunities here and ended up graduating from law school at the University of Southern California. He could be pushing paper and people at a New York law firm, but instead Cliff paces the floors of his modest office at the BIC, stopping to gaze at the Veterans Hospital outside the window. Quite apart from the bulk of his co-aspirants in the law, Cliff wears his straight brown hair past his shoulders, dons leather around his wrists, exudes Indian brave. Cliff, too, feels that education is top priority for Indians these days, but expressed hope that the Indian community will remain a community; that the learned will teach their brothers and sisters back on the reservation.

"We don't encourage them to coop back on the reservations, just to go back and help their people. The only way Indian people are going to survive is if they help each other. You can't forget where you came from."

"Education, I'll never destroy," says Moore. "Education is always reached for, and I'll always fight for it. We need it...but you have two minds here, like I say. You have two minds, You have to think Indian and you have to think English, to learn, to adapt."

Moore says he does not encourage Indians to stay on the reservation "Not to coop. But we are willing to learn. They think we have adapted to their ways. But in our own mind...I'll put it this way; the white man had a split tongue for a long time anyway...they have never crawled so low as a snake."

To the Indians, there are two minds. There are two civilizations. There are two ways of being. The Indians desire to co-exist with white civilization; yet they have no pretenses; they do not want to join white civilization. The line is a fine one; it is easily drawn too taut.

The tribe's relations with neighbors are mixed. "We have got along. The near neighbors we have here...like Eastport, Perry, Pembroke, Calais, Machias... now after you pass Machias, the people have accepted us as Indians, who are cultured, intelligent, self-sufficient. But the near neighbors, they take us as dirt." Moore explains why: "As far as I can see, these near neighbors are jealous. Due to the fact that they...oh, I don't know."

Cliff Saunders tells how Indians leave the reservation. They are attracted to the big city--the big bucks, the big luck. Many flock to the city with little education or job experience, and consequently many do not get jobs. Those who get jobs can't understand why they can't hold them.

The city is a lonely place, so Indian migrants gravitate toward the same part of the city, primarily so their children can go to school together. Busing eradicates whatever sense of community existed between Indian families in the city. Bewildered children who were swathed in the security of the reservation are dumbly walking the city's sensitive color line. Indian children are counted as either black or white depending on which race is needed to fill necessary public school racial balance quotas. They are also victims of racial hatred from both races.

Grace Roderick says her daughter went to a non-Indian elementary school outside of Maine, when their family was traveling around the country. "What am I?" her daughter would ask after coming home from school.

"Well I couldn't figure out what she was asking, then I remembered what I had gone through at Eastport High--the mockery. I told her, 'You're an Indian!'"

Grace Roderick, Pleasant Point's alcoholic counselor (and a former alcoholic) says, "A lot of the problem is the pills. If I take an alcoholic who is drunk to the hospital, the doctor will let him straighten out and when they let him go they won't prescribe 20 or 30 valiums, they'll prescribe 100 valiums. There are people who don't want any help, because they're addicted to these pills. It's a way for them to get these pills by coming to me." Valiums induce a state similar to drunkenness. "Every Indian who walks into that hospital drunk looks like a big dollar sign to these doctors," Grace says.

Alcoholism is the Indians' biggest single hurdle to progress. "Everyone on this reservation has an alcoholic in the family...it's everybody's problem. Until you sit down and try to help your parents or whoever, then nothing's going to come of it. It's just going to get worse."

Many Indians grow up on the reservation and don't leave until they have reached adulthood. Even today, many Indians go to the city for work without a high school diploma or job skills. Split away from their homes and friends, some jobless and poor, in a strange land, many Indians become alienated and withdraw into bars and never come out. Saunders says most Indians who trek to the city eventually return to the reservation to live. Grace Roderick traveled around the country for many years while her husband was in the service, building a family from Seattle to Virginia. Grace has learned to deal with her alcoholism and has returned to the reservation to "help her people."

"I can't blame anyone for my alcoholism...she said, "but I think I had the problem from the very beginning, though I never drank until I was 18. All I remember is drinking two drinks. I drank to get drunk. I think people who are unsure of themselves or have inferiority complexes are prone, because alcohol gives you false courage. But it was always there, that wasn't the problem. It was admitting it that hurt."

Grace says many Indians feel inferior, lack self-confidence. This may explain why these people are often unable to function in another world.

"Alcoholism is just a disease to me. It happens to the rich and to the poor, and it doesn't pick any particular person, it can hit anyone regardless of who they are...if we could just make people understand that it's not so much that we try to get a person to change. I think it lies in prevention at an early age."

Drunken courage fills the voids opened by basic insecurities and doubts. Indians shrink from the white experience when they encounter it. They are not prepared for it; it is foreign, they do not like it.

It seems that there is some difference between the white and the Indian that is more crucial than dress or teepees. It is something innate, locked somewhere inside the body, perhaps in the mind, perhaps elsewhere.

"You people are geared for time," Moore says. "See the reason these people are existing right now is because we stopped thinking your way. You people are geared to eat, sleep, work certain hours of the week. See, we don't."

Since Passamaquoddy values are not dominated by the drive for wealth and individual gain, capital is not so sacredly measured, nor valued as it is in white cultures. The reservation construction workers are learning a trade. At the same time they are building their own homes and their neighbors' homes. The fisherman feeds his peers. People work for the community, not exclusively for themselves. The value systems are so different for these two cultures that many Indians cannot adapt to white ways. Stripped of the security and otherworldliness of the reservation, they feel diminished, torn.

Moore reflects, "See, this is the whole thing. They [the whites] don't even respect life. They don't even respect flowers. They don't even respect the ground you walk on. And especially animals.

"To me, I have went to school from the outside world, and I have graduated from the outside world." Like Nicholas, Moore served in the military. "But I never learned anything. The only knowledge I have is the knowledge I have right here on the reservation. That I have learned anything--as a matter of fact they are so far behind. Well, I'll put it this wayf.oh, I don't know, see, they're geared for time, they live fast, they want to do this, they want to do that. For me, I'm geared for my own time. And my people and the way we think," he adds.

The idea of money angers Moore. "There is no such thing as money! We are geared for security and state of mind."

Many of the Indians living in and around the Boston area are Mic Mac Indians. They come from New Brunswick and bring with them their own language, which further alienates them from the city. "They frequently receive inadequate medical care," Saunders says. Indian efforts to assimilate into white culture are often met with either rejection or tongue-in-cheek discrimination.

Indians are constantly flowing in and out of the Boston area looking for work and a new home. Most never find it. Cliff Saunders estimates that there are roughly 4000 Indians in the area. Of these, 50-55 per cent are unemployed.

The Boston Indian Council provides meals for the elderly, a Comprehensive Employment Training Act program, a baby-sitting service that is converting to a day-care center, alcoholic counseling, as well as a place in the confusing metropolis where Indians can meet other Indians.

At Pleasant Point, Maine, people are also building. New homes are being erected all over the reservation--cheap homes, but adequate and efficient for people who have historically used hand-made shacks with no plumbing or heating. A solar-heated house goes up on the hill overlooking the bay, a sewage treatment plant churns, an electric power station is being planned. A fish processing plant is nearly operational. A recreation league is being organized. A health center is working to provide the Passamaquoddies with good medical care. David Francis has been around long enough to see the improvement. So was another Passamaquoddy, Albert Sockabasin. "When I was a kid, you were afraid to admit you were an Indian. Now it's the opposite, things have changed."

The key to the Indians' hope for the future is the education of their children. Education is a sacred concept for Indians. It is a tool, the only way for them to cope with Western ways, the only way to survive.

Moore erases all uncertainties. "They will survive! There is no such thing as 'if.' They will survive, because they will adapt, they adapt with our own ways."

And this is the sensitive question, the one that hurts. It represents the ultimate baring of their identity.

"We are Indians before Americans," is the dogmatic statement issued by many Passamaquoddies, and it is the feeling countless more emit. "We are a nation," Moore states.

It is hazy on the highway, but still one can see the fork in the road and the divider. The road behind has shown the Indian losing many of his traditions and ways. "Kids don't want to make baskets anymore," David Francis complains. From the very outset of this cultural insemination, they lost their native religion. Though Catholicism embraces many traditional beliefs and values, it does so in a white man's forum, in a white man's way.

A question Indians frequently face asks whether, by gaining the skills to live in white society, by living and succeeding in white society, by growing up in white society apart from the cultural and Indian support of the reservation, the Indians will lose their Indianness totally. Moore answers the question. "No, and definitely not. See, it's funny, but we can communicate just by looking at you...we may change their ways, but we all have the same mind. So when you come right down to it, we haven't changed at all. We are far superior minds in many ways, because some people don't use...wisdom."

The Wampanoag Indians in Mashpee, on Cape Cod, are now in court seeking to regain some of the land they lost to the white man centuries ago. Another group of Wampanoags on Cape Cod obtained some tribal land by concession from their town's government, and the Passamaquodies along with the Penobscot tribe are suing Maine for nearly half the state.

Passamaquoddy Governor Francis Nicholas leans back behind the desk in his narrow office in the Pleasant Point Community Center, Someone drops a copy of the Bangor Daily News on his desk. He surveys the front page and a wry smile comes to his wan face. The State of Maine now wants to settle the land case out of court.

"They don't want to go to court with us," he says.

Nicholas speculates on how the tribe will use the land. "We will develop it, utilize it. Not only for Indians, but for whites too. There will be recreation grounds, cottages, campgrounds, not only for Indians but for whites," Moore says. "The environment is our first priority. Because, you know it's something. Even you sometimes, you see a little bird, and you don't stop and think. You just look at that bird, you tell your wife and children; but there's more to it than that. You take moose, deer, raccoon, all kinds of animal; and mister, if you stop and think, them's the most intelligent persons, on two legs or four. And if you do respect...sometimes I feel like I can communicate with these animals."

The Indians may get the land. If they have learned too well from the whites, they may forget the values that have historically excluded them from the white culture and begin to ravage, rape and plunder the land.

Moore assures us, "We don't have any intentions of making money off the land. The land has more value than gold itself. The people who want to live their own way will have a separate place for them. They can fish, they can do whatever they want. They're under their own mind. Naturally we do have more respect for the animals, for the land than gold itself."

The strength of Moore's belief, the sharp line between Indians and Western culture, will show them which route to take: they will remain a nation, or they will become an American minority group.

The Passamaquoddies say they will always remain the same; Grace Roderick says, "The values are so different. A white man will climb up anyone's back to get ahead. It is a respect for living."

Despite the encroaching influence of Western ways, the Passamaquoddy quietly assert their argument. There is no violent crime on the reservation. The children skateboard, play with their dogs, their many, many dogs. "We don't believe in not letting them live or have little pups," says one Passamaquoddy, unwittingly demonstrating his bond to Catholicism. Passamaquoddy children do not throw rocks at birds and dogs, as some young children do in Western society. They hug their animals and enjoy visitors from the outside. They are ambitious within their community. Despite poverty, they enjoy what they are doing on the reservation. And it seems that as long as they have that community, improvement is possible. Whether they can adapt to Western ways is a crucial question. But Raymond Moore seems to know the answer.

"...If they invite you to a party, go. If they give you a drink, drink. If they give you a smoke, smoke. But experience these things, and tell us in your own mind what you have learned from the outside, and then compare it. Is it happening here, or is it happening on the outside? Now you do whatever you think for the right of the people here on this reservation, because you have gone outside and you have learned, you have learned their ways, their rotten way.

"They are smoking out there, they are hooked on drugs, and they steal from each other...and then teach your people back here what you have learned from the outside world. And this is our major goal. And for instance, some people say, 'Well, for God's sake, look at that Indian, he's drinking.' Of course he's drinking; because he's learning. He's learning your way of life. And these people don't understand why some of us are doing these things--because we are learning. We have sent our people out to learn your way, and we don't like your way."

Up on a wall in Cliff Saunders' office at the BIC is a poem. It is written right on the wall, along with other poems by the same artist. The poet is Will Basque, Cliff's predecessor as executive director of BIC, who now works at the Massachusetts Bureau of Indian Affairs. It reads:

Your Body runs red

With Blue Blood

For the Air Hasn't

Touched Your Soul

As an Answer in Life

Must be Questioned

You Must Die Before

Your Life Finds Its Goal

Just As morning replaces night day

I'm Aware there's always a dawn

For It's only a way of Beginning

Knowing you'll always go on.

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