Students experience Wabanaki culture at Salt Bay Farm

Students experience Wabanaki culture at Salt Bay Farm

The Wabanaki are still here

Throughout the month of October, groups from local schools took part in the full-day Wabanaki Living Skills and Culture program hosted by Coastal Rivers at Salt Bay Farm in Damariscotta.

The program teaches students about different aspects of Wabanaki culture – both traditional and current – through authentic, hands-on experiences. Activities are always taught in collaboration with Native American educators. For the past two years, Passamaquoddy educator Sandra Bassett has partnered with Coastal Rivers Education Director Sarah Gladu to teach the program.

Sandra brings to the program a passionate interest in learning and sharing the Passamaquoddy language, which for her brings the culture to life and conveys certain Wabanaki concepts that may not come across in other ways. For example, she talks about how there is no word in Passamaquoddy that expresses ownership, only things that are shared among all.

“I’m grateful that the kids are getting exposed to the Wabanaki language and culture,” she says. “We talk with the kids about not just how the Wabanaki were here, but that we’re still here.”

Wabanaki singing and drumming with a student

A student tries out Sandra’s handmade drum while she sings a traditional Passamaquoddy song.

The students learn a few Passamaquoddy words, such as a greeting and how to say “thank you.” Sandra tells them a favorite story in Passamaquoddy, and students join her in singing children’s songs accompanied by a hand-held drum and dancing. They also play a traditional game involving stealth and careful listening, where a masked player in the center of a circle tries to keep others from sneaking in one at a time and stealing three small sticks. After they play, Sarah and Sandra encourage students to think about what skills this game may have taught Wabanaki youth, and how those skills may have been important for day-to-day activities such as hunting.

smiling students playing the stick game

Students play a traditional game that requires stealth and careful listening.

Another activity the students enjoy is a walk through the hayfields to visit the wigwams, where they learn how to tie bundles of grass and lay them over the wigwam frames. Along the way, Sarah and Sandra point out examples of traditionally used wild plants, and the students learn how to dig up the tasty groundnut tubers that grow everywhere around the wigwam village.

students tie bundles of grass for the wigwam

Jefferson School students tie bundles of grass to lay on the wigwam.

“Everything we need, we get from the land,” says Sandra.

Sandra Bassett Peskotomuhkat resides in Southern Maine but is from Sipayik, the Pleasant Point Reservation near Eastport. She graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 2021 with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a minor in Wabanaki Language, a degree which she and her colleagues advocated to create. In 2022, she was the first to be awarded a Certificate in Wabanaki Languages.

The Wabanaki program is one of Coastal Rivers’ many nature education programs offered throughout the school year at no cost to AOS 93 schools, thanks to the support of Coastal Rivers members and friends.