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Passamaquoddy Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Passamaquoddy tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main and Passamaquoddy website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Passamaquoddy pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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    Passamaquoddy Tribe

How do you pronounce "Passamaquoddy?" What does it mean?
Passamaquoddy is pronounced Pass-uh-muh-KWAH-dee. It comes from the tribe's native name, Peskotomuhkati, which refers to a traditional way of catching pollock (a kind of fish) by using a spear. Fishing is still important to Passamaquoddy culture today.

Where do the Passamaquoddy Indians live?
The Passamaquoddy nation is part of the Wabanaki Confederacy that controlled northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes. The Passamaquoddy are original natives of the area between Maine and New Brunswick. They lived on both sides of the border, because they were there before Canada and the United States became countries. Here is a map showing the location of the Passamaquoddies and their neighboring tribes.

Today, most Passamaquoddy people live on the US side of the border, in Maine. There is one Passamaquoddy band that lives in Canada.

How is the Passamaquoddy tribe organized?
There are two Passamaquoddy tribes in the United States. They live on two different reservations in Maine. A reservation is land that belongs to an Indian tribe and is legally under their control. Each Passamaquoddy tribe has its own government, laws, police, and other services, just like a small country. In Canada, there is no officially recognized Passamaquoddy First Nation in Canada. That means the Passamaquoddies in Canada don't have reserve lands and don't have their own government.

The leader of a tribe is called sakom in the Passamaquoddy language, which is translated "governor" in Maine and "chief" in Canada. In the past the sakom was chosen by tribal councilmembers, but today he or she is elected by all the people. The Passamaquoddy tribe also has a representative in the Maine legislature, but he cannot vote.

What is the population of the Passamaquoddy tribe?
The There are 3500 Passamaquoddy tribal members in the US and Canada combined. However, the true number of Passamaquoddy people is higher than that. Some Passamaquoddy people are unenrolled (meaning they have Passamaquoddy heritage but do not live on the reservation and are not officially registered with the tribe.)

What language do Passamaquoddy Indians speak?
Passamaquoddy people all speak English today. Some older Passamaquoddys still speak their native Maliseet-Passamaquoddy language. It has this long name because two tribes, the Maliseet and the Passamaquoddy, speak the same language with different accents--just like American and Canadian English. Today Passamaquoddy is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. But some young Passamaquoddy people are working to keep the language alive.

The Passamaquoddy language is musical and has complicated verbs with many parts. You can listen to the Maine dialect being spoken here and read a Passamaquoddy picture dictionary here. If you'd like to learn a few easy Passamaquoddy words, tan kahk is a friendly greeting and woliwon means "thank you."

What was Passamaquoddy culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a museum website with information about Passamaquoddy history and traditions. And here are the homepages of the two Passamaquoddy tribes of Maine, Indian Township and Pleasant Point, where you can learn about the Passamaquoddy people today.

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How do Passamaquoddy Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Passamaquoddy children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have dolls and toys to play with. Here is a picture of an old Passamaquoddy toy. Passamaquoddy boys also enjoyed playing a ball-kicking game. Like many Native Americans, Passamaquoddy mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted.

What were Passamaquoddy men and women's roles?
Passamaquoddy Indian men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Passamaquoddy women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders could join in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, Passamaquoddy chiefs were always men, but today a woman can be chief too.

What were Passamaquoddy homes like?
The Passamaquoddy didn't live in tepees. They lived in small round buildings called wigwams. Here are some pictures of a wigwam like the ones Passamaquoddy Indians used. Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam lodge for fun or to connect with their heritage. Most Passamaquoddies live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Passamaquoddy clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
The Passamaquoddy women wore long skirts or dresses with removable sleeves. Passamaquoddy men wore breechcloths and leggings. Here is a website with pictures of Indian leggings. In colonial times, the Passamaquoddy tribe adapted European costume such as blouses and jackets, decorating them with fancy beadwork. Here are some photographs of traditional Maliseet/Passamaquoddy clothing, and more information about traditional Indian clothing in general.

The Passamaquoddies didn't wear war bonnet headdresses like the Sioux. Sometimes they wore a headband with feathers in it. The Passamaquoddies also had pointed caps like the Mi'kmaq, and beaded moccasins for their feet. They didn't usually paint their faces. Most Passamaquoddy men and women wore their hair long.

Today, some Passamaquoddy people still wear moccasins, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What did Passamaquoddy Indians use for transportation in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Passamaquoddy tribe was well-known for their birchbark canoes. Here's a website of birchbark canoe pictures. Canoeing is still popular in the Passamaquoddy tribe, though not many people handcraft their own canoe from birch bark anymore. Over land, Passamaquoddy people used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) The Passamaquoddy used sleds and snowshoes to help them travel in the winter. They learned to make those tools from northern neighbors like the Crees. Today, of course, Passamaquoddy people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Passamaquoddy food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Passamaquoddy people moved around a lot to find food for their families. Usually the Passamaquoddy tribe would travel to the coast in summertime to fish, hunt porpoise, and plant corn, and then back inland during the winter to hunt game. Fish is still important to their diet today. The Passamaquoddy also gathered berries and wild plants to eat, and made maple syrup from tree sap. Here is a website with more information about Woodland Indian foods.

What kinds of weapons did the Passamaquoddy Indians use?
Passamaquoddy hunters and warriors used bows and arrows, spears, and wooden clubs. Passamaquoddy fishermen used harpoons and pronged spears to catch fish and porpoises. Here is a website with pictures and information about Native American hunting weapons.

What are Passamaquoddy arts and crafts like?
Passamaquoddy artists are known for their ash baskets and beading art. Here is an online museum exhibit of Passamaquoddy baskets and other Wabanaki artwork. Like other eastern American Indians, Passamaquoddies also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The pictures and symbols on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What is Passamaquoddy music like?
The two most important Passamaquoddy instruments are drums and flutes. Passamaquoddy drums were usually large and several men would play them together at dances and other community events. Flutes were carved from wood are were most often used to play love songs. Here is a video of a drum song during a dance at the Passamaquoddy Indian Days pow wow.

What other Native Americans did the Passamaquoddy tribe interact with?
The Passamaquoddy traded regularly with all the other New England Indians, and they often fought with the powerful Iroquois tribe. But their most important neighbors were the Penobscot, Abenaki, Maliseet, and Micmac tribes. These five nations formed an alliance called the Wabanaki Confederacy. Before this alliance, the Passamaquoddy were not always friends with these other tribes--in fact, they sometimes fought wars against each other. But once they joined the Confederacy, the Wabanaki tribes never fought each other again, and are still allies today.

What kinds of stories do the Passamaquoddy Indians tell?
There are lots of traditional Passamaquoddy legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Passamaquoddy Indian culture. Here is one legend about Glooscap (Gluskabe), the culture hero of the Wabanaki tribes, and another about a brave Passamaquoddy girl.

What current problems does the Passamaquoddy tribe face?
In 1794, the United States signed a treaty with the Passamaquoddy tribe promising them the right to fish in their homeland forever. But since then, the American government has imposed restrictions on the Passamaquoddy tribe's fishing and hunting rights. One controversy is over the Passamaquoddy tribe's tradition of porpoise hunting. Hunting porpoises for food is against the law in the US, because porpoises are endangered. But the Passamaquoddy tribe complains that commercial tuna fishermen kill more than a thousand porpoises every year, while Passamaquoddy hunters only want to kill four or five to feed their families traditionally. In their opinion, it isn't the Passamaquoddy tribe's fault the porpoise is endangered--it is the tuna fishermen who need to change. This argument has not been solved yet. Here's a page of links about porpoises and porpoise hunting from the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point.

What about Passamaquoddy religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Passamaquoddy life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Passamaquoddy people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Passamaquoddy spirituality or this site about Indian religions in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
An Upriver Passamaquoddy is an excellent choice-- it's the autobiography of Passamaquoddy storyteller Allen Sockabasin, and you can learn a lot about Passamaquoddy history and traditions from this well-written book. Younger kids will enjoy Thanks To The Animals, a charming picture book by Sockabasin. For more detailed cultural and historical information, Twelve Thousand Years is a good reference book about Maine Indians. If you enjoy folklore, there's a good book of Wabanaki legends called Giants of the Dawnland. The stories are told by a Penobscot Indian, but they are common to all the Wabanakis including the Passamaquoddy tribe. You can also browse through our recommendations of books on Native American history in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book for sale through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Passamaquoddy Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Passamaquoddy Tribe

Passamaquoddy Indian Tribe
An overview of the Passamaquoddy people, their language and history.

Passamaquoddy Language Resources
Passamaquoddy language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Passamaquoddy Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Passamaquoddys past and present.

Maliseet Words
Passamaquoddy Indian vocabulary lists.

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