‘Wabanaki Tales’ brings music, storytelling of Maine’s Indigenous individuals to stage

Jan. 27—The Wabanaki individuals of Maine have been sharing their tales, music and artwork for hundreds of years however have not at all times had the chance to take action on an expert stage.

“If there have been stage performances, they’re usually from non-Natives and have catered to white audiences,” stated Chris Newell, a Passamaquoddy tribal member and former director of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor. “That was the facility construction. They needed to carry out to a sure expectation.”

A world premiere efficiency titled “Wabanaki Tales” that was commissioned by the native performing arts group Portland Ovations hopes to reverse that development by showcasing genuine and different performances from a few of Maine’s prime Indigenous artists.

“I believe it is so essential for these tales to be shared by up to date dwelling artists and never handled as folklore or delusion,” stated Aimee Petrin, govt and creative director of Portland Ovations. “These are all working artists who’ve dedicated practices. We wished to discover a option to create a platform.”

The Feb. 3 and 4 performances at Merrill Auditorium will characteristic music from Tania Morey of the Tobique tribe in New Brunswick simply throughout the Aroostook County border; spirit tales and puppetry from Jennifer Pictou of the Mi’kmaq Nation; tales and native language from Passamaquoddy tribal member Dwayne Tomah; and a genre-defying music and visible efficiency by Penobscot Nation artist Jason Brown, who performs as Firefly the Hybrid.

Newell, who labored with Ovations to curate the present, will function a bunch of kinds, utilizing music and narration to transition between the opposite artists.

“I believe the truth in America is that we’re usually ignorant with regards to Native individuals,” he stated. “And that is not Americans’ fault, it is extra the system. We educate it as previous and spotlight artwork from artists who’re lengthy lifeless and gone.

“Portland Ovations actually gave over the facility of creation to us with this mission, and likewise supplied all of their experience and instruments to reinforce the performances.”

Petrin stated that when Ovations launched its fee program again in 2020 and dedicated funds to supporting 5 performances from native artists, employees knew it wished one in all them to focus on the state’s Indigenous group.

Now, she hopes “Wabanaki Tales” lives past simply this efficiency.

“We do not see this as a one and accomplished,” she stated. “We wish to maintain it alive going ahead.”


Jason Brown, a Penobscot Nation tribal member, has been singing conventional music since he was younger, though by no means publicly.

In the previous few years, although, he began branching out, first in entrance of buddies and acquaintances, then in Fb Stay performances.

He now performs on stage as Firefly — mixing the music of his ancestors with up to date sounds.

“Every area, every room I carry out in has a unique power,” he stated. “It is to not say that there aren’t nerves, however the nerves are pleasure, in having that alternate between what I do and everybody else within the room.”

Brown grew up on Indian Island, tribal land simply north of Bangor, however left Maine at 17 to dwell within the desert for greater than a decade earlier than returning residence.

“It was time,” he stated. “I missed it.”

Brown stated he is held completely different jobs, all of which centered on creativity in a roundabout way, however dwell efficiency remains to be new. He stated the chance to take part in “Wabanaki Tales” is exclusive as a result of every artist will carry one thing completely different.

“I see it as a possibility to push myself slightly and do one thing sudden,” he stated.

One of many causes Brown has embraced performing is to counteract stereotypes that Native American tradition needs to be relegated to museums. He stated in the previous few years, there was a refined shift within the arts world to be extra inclusive of Indigenous types.

“I really feel like what’s completely different and highly effective now’s that we have taken management,” he stated. “We get to say how we wish to current and transfer via the world.”

“What I am doing is not any completely different than what my ancestors did,” he continued. “We take the tradition and power for prior generations and put our personal stamp on it and ship it ahead.”


Like Brown, Dwayne Tomah has been sharing the tales and songs of his individuals, the Passamaquoddys, almost all his life.

He directs the museum at Nice Level, the tribal reservation in Washington County, but additionally performs at faculties and different venues frequently.

For Tomah, it is all about language.

“Tales and music, they join us,” he stated. “So, we’re at all times speaking concerning the language and the ceremony.”

As a part of his efficiency for “Wabanaki Tales,” Tomah will reenact a collection of ceremonies particular to Passamaquoddys.

“There are at all times nerves, I believe, however I am assured, too,” he stated. “I wish to share this with the world. There’s quite a lot of worth in that.”

Tomah stated he has seen a better acceptance from society concerning the “historic fact” of Indigenous individuals.

“It is shameful to consider genocide,” he stated. “However as we have tried to speak about these matters very respectfully however very in truth, I am hopeful that folks begin to perceive Indigenous individuals and our connection to the land, and that is the place it begins for us. So, how can we construct this relationship and present examples of humanity?”

Tomah stated one of the simplest ways to try this is thru schooling, which is why he likes performing to youthful audiences.

“If we get them, we are able to change the pendulum,” he stated.


Along with Tomah and Brown, “Wabanaki Tales” will characteristic songs by Tania Morey concerning the Wolastoq, the Indigenous title for the St. John River that types a part of Maine’s border with Canada.

Rounding out the lineup shall be Jennifer Pictou, an artist and historian with the Mi’kmaq Nation of Aroostook County who will share spirit tales accompanied by a big puppet.

Newell stated it was a problem to place collectively a cohesive present with such various performers.

“I believe the essential factor is to see a manufacturing that is Wabanaki-led, to problem what the media thinks a Native manufacturing ought to appear to be,” he stated.

Portland Ovations, which brings quite a lot of nationwide and native occasions to town, principally at Merrill Auditorium, started commissioning work in 2020 as a option to give efficiency artists a lift in the course of the pandemic.

So, the group has supported performances by Portland musician Samuel James, dancers Riley Watts and Heather Stewart and the manufacturing of a play written by the late activist Dee Clarke.

Petrin stated each bit of labor has been completely different, however every additionally has created wealthy partnerships inside the better arts group.

There additionally has been an effort to advertise work from teams which have traditionally been marginalized or neglected. She stated she’s enthusiastic about the opportunity of holding “Wabanaki Tales” moving into some capability sooner or later.

“We won’t do it with each fee, however that is one the place there are unbelievable alternatives that we hope to discover,” she stated.

Newell stated the upcoming efficiency might open doorways for artists to carry out at different venues down the highway.

“I believe for individuals to see these artwork types as alive and dynamic and altering with the instances, that helps us get previous this bias about Indigenous tradition,” he stated. “We wish to do one thing nice. We wish the viewers to go residence much more excited than once they arrived.”

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