Passamaquoddy - Leading the Way

By Juliana L’Heureux

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Msgr Caron
and Esther Bear

Richard L'Heureux with Esther Bear and Joanne Passamaquoddy

As it turned out, the surprise event of the St. Croix 2004 celebrations was not in the commemoration of 400 years of French presence in North America.

Instead, after all the hoopla about the French, it was truly the Native American Passamaquoddy who grabbed the spotlight in Calais, Maine and St. Stephen, New Brunswick Canada, during the 10-day celebrations held throughout the two cities from July 25-July 4th. Actually, events appeared to continue where they left off 400 years ago, because even in 1604, it was the Passamaquoddy ancestors of those who completely charmed us with their sense of history and their dignity last week in Calais who saved this event from being under-reported and, frankly, even a little “ho-hum”. It’s thanks to the ancestors of Maine and Canada’s Passamaquoddy that the first French settlers who survived the first horrible winter of 1605-05 on tiny St. Croix Island were saved and helped to relocate in Port Royal, Nova Scotia.

Passamaquoddy elder Joseph Nicholas over-rode almost all other events when he summed up the activities from the Native American point of view with his charm and humor. Nicholas is a lively 78 year old Passamaquoddy born in Indian Township, the Native Reservation located outside of Calais, Maine. Nicholas also represented the Native Americans in the Main State Legislature for several years.

When asked by a Canadian reporter covering the celebrations what Nicholas would have said to his people and to the French if he had been the first Passamaquoddy to greet the Europeans in 1604, his classic response was quick and witty. “I’d say, ‘Well, there goes the neighborhood!’”

Humor aside, Nicholas and other Passamaquoddy were truly the untold-headline story when Maine’s Roman Catholic Bishop Richard Malone said a Mass in honor of the St. Croix 2004 events, on Sunday July 26, in Calais, Maine.

Nicholas and several other Passamaquoddy, ceremonially dressed in beautiful traditional attire, presented Bishop Malone and all attending Sunday’s Mass with a spiritual gift. We received the honor of witnessing and receiving the ancient “smudging” ceremony, whereby Joanna, an elder Passamaquoddy woman, dressed in hand made traditional native attire, blessed us with incense floating up from a wooden bowl and blown into our extended hands by a fan made from eagle’s feathers.

Joanna slowly walked throughout Calais’ Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church with solemn majesty, honoring parishioners with the incense blessing. Her presence was spellbinding as she intently reached out to everyone who extended their hands to receive her impressive ancient blessing. I was touched by Joanna’s demeanor and her sensitivity to reach every person in the church with this ceremony.

As I said to Dick, my husband, after the Mass, “How many of us will be able to experience a spiritual event like the smudging ceremony in our lifetimes?” I’m sure Bishop Malone, newly appointed to Maine, was amazed by the smudging ritual that probably pre-dates the passing of incense in the ancient Roman Catholic tradition- although, the ritual could have been learned from the missionary French Jesuits who converted most of the Native Passamaquoddy to Christianity.

Closing the Mass, after the celebration of the Eucharist, the hymn “Holy Ground” was sung in both the Passamaquoddy and English languages by a magnificent Passamaquoddy woman soloist – (I must check on her name, as I apologize, I cannot find where I wrote it down).

An observation about the Roman Catholic Mass held in Calais and other secular events was the lack of Jesuit participation in the events, overall. I’m positive this was not an intentional oversight. Nevertheless, many Jesuits were martyred for having Christianized the Native Americans. Indeed, their graves throughout Maine and Canada are evidence of this fact. Of course, I could be wrong and the Jesuits were quietly present. After all, those Jesuits buried in the basement of St. Ann’s Church on Pleasant Point (another Indian Reservation), may have been spiritually surrounding us all the time.

I was deeply impressed by the Passamaquoddy response to the colonization of their beautiful land, a place that today is Maine’s poorest locale – in Washington County. Indeed, Joseph Nicholas probably said it all. Our colonial ancestors probably did bring down the neighborhood.

As a footnote, I’m attaching an excerpt from a story described by Rita Drouin, a member of Friends-L, an Ameri-Indian living in Quebec. She writes in the e-magazine “Roots” posted on Friends-L about a Presbyterian liturgy during the 1930s. It’s well written and a nice ending to the memory I shared from the 2004 St. Croix celebrations: “Reverend Erin MacKay, a retired Presbyterian minister, in a letter to yours truly, shares the following story :”

“My father, the Rev. Dr. W. M. MacKay, was the Protestant minister of the Presbyterian church at Hunters' Point on Lake Kipawa, Quebec, in the early 1900's. To be more precise, he was also the superintendent of Missions for Northern Ontario and Manitoba, Canada. Hunters' Point is close to the Québec/Ontario border and included in the northern Ontario missions."

Dr. Rev. MacKay visited his congregation conducting communion, baptizing the babies and generally encouraging the work of the little congregation situated 25 miles up the lake, in the middle of nowhere sharing the forest with the moose, the bears, wolves and other animals. The Hunters' Point Presbyterian Church was known as a healthy Ameri-Indian congregation in which all children were baptized and all adults were communicant members participating to the fullest.

Now, Rev. Erin MacKay, the son, takes us back to the summer of 1930 during a weekend spent with his parents at Hunters' Point: ‘We left our car down the line and came the final distance 25 miles up the blue highway in Archie Perriers' power driven canoe. We stayed at the Perrier homestead which was also the general store. Archie was a leader and elder in the Presbyterian church and he and his family were very wonderful people. Sunday morning, we traveled by canoe across the narrows, to the lovely log church where my father conducted a communion service. What a great sight it was to see all the people, young and old, traveling to church by canoe!

That evening, all the canoes were tied together and we floated slowly down the river while my father, with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, Indian style, sat up on the bow of the lead canoe and conducted the evening service which I will never forget. It was all so real and so beautiful.’

At this point in Rev. Erin MacKay's letter, I had goose bumps and wishing that I could have been there as well to witness such a sight. The next best thing is living it through another's memories.”

Yours Truly, Rita Drouin.

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Copyright 2004, Juliana L'Heureux