by Catherine J.S. Lee
As part of the Sunday Afternoons at the Eastport Arts Center series, on Sunday, February 4th, Passamaquoddy historic preservation officer and beloved tribal elder Donald Soctomah spoke to a large audience about the 10,000-year-old site of the Passamaquoddy village of N’tolonapemk, now known as Meddybemps and the site of a major clean-up operation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

N’tolonampemk is Passamaquoddy for “our ancestors’ place.” Located where Meddybemps Lake drains into the Dennys River and encompassing wetland and forest, the village provided tribal members with numerous plant and animal resources and was a central location between coastal Passamaquoddy Bay and interior regions. Sadly, after World War II much of the area became a salvage yard specializing in military surplus, which led to widespread contamination by highly toxic waste. In 1996, the site was designated a Superfund Site and a federally-funded cleanup effort began. As the century turned, an archaeological dig started on the non-hazardous portions of the site and became one of the largest such digs in Maine.

Soctomah began his presentation by screening the first 20 minutes of a 2007 film about N’tolonapemk produced by Gunnar Hansen. There followed his talk on the village and cleanup, a lively question-and-answer session, and the passing around of ancient stone tools found at the site. He explained that the clean-up still continues, with contaminated soil removed and treated or burned and water being pumped to remove contaminants. A new technology using materials that “eat” contaminants in water wells is also available.

In his discussion, Soctomah stressed that, “Things thought lost forever can be brought back,” one well-known example being the rebounding of the bald eagle populations. The historically-abundant alewives are returning to the Dennys in sizeable numbers, and it is hoped that the salmon will follow as N’tolonapemk is restored to its pristine condition.

Catherine J.S. Lee is an Eastport educator and fiction writer who serves as president of Peavey Memorial Library and as a board member of the EAC.

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 ongoing program The Concert Series, which offers year-round programming run by volunteers. No one is turned away for lack of funds. The full 2024 schedule and more posts about upcoming and past programs may be found at eastportartscenter.org/the-concert-series.