Indigenous language focus of Belfast holiday

Sep 27, 2017
Source: Haverford College’s Quaker Collection Superintendent Asa C. Tuttle poses with Quaker teachers and students at Modoc School, Indian Territory.

Belfast — In 2015, Belfast became the first town in Maine to replace celebration of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. The Midcoast city was followed by Orono and Brunswick; and, this year, by Bangor and Portland.

The local 2017 observance includes a Circle of Sharing and a documentary screening Sunday, Oct. 8; and the annual panel discussion Monday, Oct. 9. All are focuses on native language — inextricably linked to tribal culture and targeted for years for extinction. Throughout centuries of cultural sabotage, somehow the torch of language preservation has been passed along. Against all odds, indigenous linguists and teachers in Maine are engaged in an heroic mission to create access to the knowledge of fluent elders before they pass from this life; and to expand and digitize this knowledge base in ways that can nourish coming generations.

Sunday at 2 p.m., there will be a Circle of Sharing at the Steamboat Landing gazebo, on the harbor near the Belfast Boathouse. Everyone is invited to bring a poem or story on an indigenous theme to share; participants can read, recite or just come to listen. Admission is free for this rain or shine event.

At 6 p.m., the Belfast Indigenous Peoples Day Planning Committee will host a screening of “The Quaker Indian Boarding Schools: Facing our History and Ourselves” in the Abbott Room of Belfast Free Library, 106 High St. This short documentary, part of the National North American Boarding School Healing Coalition's work, offers enlightening historical research on the impact these schools had on native lives and culture, beginning in the 18th century.

On the Monday holiday itself, a panel of three indigenous speakers will offer their perspectives on the challenges and significance of preserving language at 4 p.m. at the library. Carol Dana (Penobscot) is currently at work on a bilingual edition of “Transformer Tales,” creation stories and guides to honorable living once passed down orally from Newell Lyons, as well as an updated and expanded Penobscot dictionary.

Newell Lewey (Passamaquoddy) has taught the Passamaquoddy language in the Princeton school system and currently is attending MIT in pursuit of a master’s degree in linguistics with a focus on indigenous languages. And Roger Paul (Passamaquoddy) works as a teacher with the Penobscot Nation and the University of Maine at Orono.

Admission is free, but donations will be gratefully accepted to benefit a campaign is currently underway to support the teaching of Passamaquoddy language at the secondary school level in Washington County.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115; or

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