At a Native American Literature Symposium in the late 1990s, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, the respected Crow Creek Lakota author, scholar, and editor of Wicazo-Sa Review, opined that most scholars of Native literature knew nothing of literature from Native New England, not to mention Maine, and urged a young colleague to publish some scholarship on it. The prospect was daunting; at the time, not only was there a void of scholarship, but most of the primary work was out of print. Since then, things are looking up. The essays included below offer a strong response, after some intervening years, to Professor Cook-Lynn’s request.
This special issue follows close on the heels of the publication of a woliwikhikon, or “great book.” Peskotomuhkati Wolastuoqewi Latuwewakon: A Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Dictionary (2008) represents lifetimes of work in Passamaquoddy language preservation and teaching, involving numerous community members and native speakers.1 The project began in the 1970s as a manuscript collaboration between linguist Philip S. LeSourd and Wayne Newell, a native speaker of Passamaquoddy and director of the bilingual education program at Indian Township in Princeton, Maine.
The dictionary’s publication also represents a new way that works of Native literature and culture are getting produced and published. A true collaboration among community knowledge keepers and academics, it drew on the expertise of longtime friends David A. Francis, a native Passamaquoddy-Maliseet speaker and elder at the Pleasant Point community, and the linguist Robert M. Leavitt, now [End Page xi] retired as the director of the Mi’kmaq-Maliseet Institute at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Margaret Apt, also from Pleasant Point, served as the community research coordinator.
Francis received an honorary doctorate in 2009 from the University of Maine for his devoted work on language preservation, with the dictionary as tangible evidence. He and other Passamaquoddy-Maliseet speakers spent forty years carefully documenting the meanings of the words and phrases. In the dictionary they place these terms in full sentences collected directly from native speakers, to illustrate their meanings and uses.
The dictionary is thus much more than a compendium of vocabulary; it is a living document that describes and ensures the cultural survival of the Passamaquoddy people and situates them firmly within their homeland. The word wikhikon means something written or drawn in words or pictures; it can also be a map telling the ways through and uses of the land that feeds and supports people. The dictionary can be read as one of these wikhikonihkuk—a way to understand Passamaquoddy territory as what the Abenaki historian Lisa Brooks would call “a network of waterways and relations” (xl). Maine’s indigenous people have used the territory’s network of rivers for generations: rivers are roads inland and to the sea, roads between communities, roads to seasonal locations, gathering and harvesting places. In the Wabanaki languages, names signal safe or unsafe places for travel, and places where food is plentiful or where communities were established; so the dictionary is about naming place and the networks that constitute it.
Besides the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet dictionary, this special issue owes an enormous debt to another important wikhikon (or, as the Abenakis would say, awikhigan): Brooks’s own 2008 study, The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast. Like David Francis and his colleagues, Brooks wrote her book out of a sense of responsibility to her own people; like the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet dictionary, The Common Pot has benefited a much wider audience. It brings a particular focus to the literary history of the Wabanakis and other northeastern indigenous people, illustrating their deployments of writing as political and intellectual responses [End Page xii] to colonization. Brooks makes visible the connection between Wabanaki writing in English and traditional systems of textualization—such as wampum belts and maps on birchbark scrolls—that were used to document social organization, law, treaties, and people’s relationship to land.
She provides linguistic evidence of this in the Abenaki verb root awigha, to draw, write, or map, and the noun awikhigan, the tool resulting from the act of drawing, writing, or mapping. Brooks recounts how awikhiganak, birchbark scrolls containing symbolic...