If I were to sum up this book, I would say that it is a mixture of autobiography and Passamaquoddy Studies.
It is chronological, going from the founding of the Passamaquoddy village the author lived in to the author’s childhood to the author’s present time when writing. All the while, he gets into detail about the daily lives of the tribal members, from basket-weaving to hunting to story-telling.
Allen J. Sockabasin
After his mother died and his father lost his job at a young age, he had to grow up faster. This taught him to have good work ethic which pervaded him from that point onwards.
He became a chief, or a Zaug-um, in 1972. What happened during his time as Zaug-um dramatically changed his life. Sockabasin demonstrated that he admits that he made mistakes and is willing to repair them in the best possible way. One of those ways is passing on the Passamaquoddy language, which was his first language.
Along with Sockabasin’s writing there are pictures from every tribal member, in order to familiarize the reader with who the Passamaquoddy people are. It is a great way of easing the reader into learning about them without overwhelming them with a lot of information.
There is also a lot of emphasis on location. Sockabasin would talk about the communities, Zee-by-ig and Mud-doc-mig-goog, being central to the Passamaquoddy life. In his childhood, he would go to an abandoned CCC site dubbed “Peed-ddug,” or the Passamaquoddization of “the pit,” to hunt.
Sockabasin talks a lot about the changing environment of his community. One of the ways is the paving of new roads and railroads. He also wrote about the elders who spoke Passamaquoddy dying and the young people not acquiring the language. He also talked about the changes in technology, such as the transitioning from a sternwheeler to boats powered by gasoline engines and horses replaced with automobiles.
One of those changes involves the transition from subsistence hunting. Sockabasin also talks about the autonomy of Passamaquoddy tribe from survival on game, especially in direct defiance to the game warden. He described hunting as:
“Our hunting skills and associated traditions were passed down to us through many generations and were looked upon as a way of life with separate, self-governing rules that were not written”
Sockabasin talks about the transition from that to government welfare, which has led the administrators of this system, whether they were Indian agents or Catholic clergymen, to pick favorites and play the community against each other.
There is also the issue of race that Sockabasin writes about. As a boy, he endured racism from Whites, by his teachers and peers. One of the ways was being segregated in a movie theater. The clergymen who de facto ruled over the Passamaquoddy were also White. He also remembers empathy given by the tribe to a Black band, due to similarities in discrimination and statuses in society. He also talks about the appropriation of a chief’s headdress and teepees due to exposure to Western cinema by Passamaquoddy people who went to act.
Sockabasin uses sounds familiar to English speakers when writing out tribal names. He also places a person’s tribal name next to their English first name.
Since he wrote about history and his personal experiences interchangeably, the writing style also changes. While the history parts were written more formally and technically with exact numbers of measurement, there is some prose within his memoir, such as describing the potato farms in Aroostook County:
“To my eyes each farm was a beautiful painting with bright colors–the huge barns with their brightly colored homes, the vast acreage of open fields, and the scattered farm equipment they used in their work.”
Real World Application
The Passamaquoddy is a tribe indigenous to Maine with 3,600 current tribal members. They originally thrived off the wildlife, especially the fish due to the cold, strong currents, until White encroachment forced them to adapt.
There is a lot of detail about the Passamaquoddy identity in this memoir. However, it came at the expense of Sockabasin’s own narrative. There were moments where the geography was more of the central focus than on the author.
Sockabasin also talks about the Passamaquoddy language. Not just with the names of the places and the people, but in its dying nature. He talked about how the elders who spoke it were dying and it was becoming less and less spoken. What this memoir does is create awareness of this problem as well as many others in hopes that whoever will read it will know about the Passamaquoddy nation.
A Memoir Worth Hunting
For anyone in Maine looking to study the indigenous population in their state, I would recommend starting with this memoir by this Passamaquoddy elder.
Sockabasin, Allen J. “An Upriver Passamaquoddy.” Tilbury House Publishers. 2007.