by Catherine J.S. Lee
EAC inaugurated its Sunday Afternoons at the Arts Center series on
Sunday, January 8th, with a capacity crowd in attendance for a presentation entitled
“Passamaquoddy Place Names Around the Bay.” Passamaquoddy Tribal Historian Donald
Soctomah used a slide show, storytelling, and a question-and-answer session to illuminate the
use of place names in the Passamaquoddy language.
Soctomah explained that it was a degree in forestry that led him to talk to an elder
generation of loggers about the history of tribal lands, and that these histories energized him
“body, mind, and soul.” The culmination of 22 years of researching and interviewing was the
interactive CD he created with Ed Bassett of the Passamaquoddy environmental department,
and Passamaquoddy Language Keeper David Francis, who was fluent in both the current
Passamaquoddy language and its earlier variants.
The interactive CD, created when computer technology was far less advanced than it is
now, is being updated with additional data. The 410 place names and accompanying photos
and interactive maps were the limit that could be saved to a CD when the slide show was
originally made. Many additional place names are in the process of being added.
The CD’s interactive maps encompass tribal lands from the Union River near Ellsworth
east to Point Lepreau, New Brunswick, and north to the headwaters of the St. Croix River. For
his presentation at the EAC, Soctomah focused on a tour around Passamaquoddy Bay up the
west side and down the east from, in the place names in current use, Eastport to Milltown, to St.
Andrews, to Deer Island, to Campobello.
Soctomah explained that the Passamaquoddy place names are actually descriptions of
actions in the places so named. This assisted in finding a place through what could be observed
to be happening there. “Passamaquoddy” itself is the Anglicized version of Peskotomuhkat,
meaning “people from the place where pollock is abundant.”
In addition to the new edition of the CD, Soctomah noted that tribal collaboration with the
Tides Institute and Museum of Art will add Passamaquoddy place names to the next edition of
their maps of this area.
Sunday Afternoons at the Arts Center programs are held in Eastport Arts Center’s cozy downstairs Washington Street Gallery, amidst rotating exhibitions. Admission is by voluntary donation; proceeds are shared equally between the presenters and EAC constituent group The Concert Series, which offers year-round programming run by volunteers. No one is turned away for lack of funds.
Find the full 2023 schedule and more posts about upcoming and past programs here: https://eastportartscenter.org/constituent-groups/the-concert-series/.