HOULTON, Maine — Inspired by an eagle that flew majestically overhead just after the start of the Grand Entry ceremony, members of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians welcomed fellow tribal members and residents from surrounding communities Saturday as they held their 29th annual Recognition Day Celebration.
The daylong event took place on tribal grounds off Bell Road, and a traditional supper was held in the tribe’s gymnasium Saturday evening.
The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians has been federally recognized as a government by the U.S. since October 1980. According to Maliseet history, before contact with Europeans, the Maliseets occupied much of what is now the eastern borderline of the U.S. and Canada in northern New England.
After the Jay Treaty in 1794, the Maliseets obtained free border crossing rights between the two countries because their villages spanned both countries.
The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians comprises some 800 members.
Each year during the Recognition Day celebration, Maliseets gather on tribal lands for a fete that includes a sacred fire, dancing, singing, drumming and a traditional feast.
Each event has a theme, and this year’s was Celebrating Native American Veterans. The ceremony honored those who have served in the military.
Throughout the day, a huge crowd of children and adults took part in games, dancing and other activities. Youth flocked to the bounce house and everyone enjoyed food and browsed through native crafts.
During the Grand Entry ceremony, Maliseets and other American Indians danced in the sacred circle in traditional attire. Surrounded by drumming and chanting, participants offered songs to honor veterans, the Maliseet tribe and their culture.
Francis Maker, 47, of Woodstock, New Brunswick, has two teenage children who are part Maliseet. She and Sarah, 14, and Joseph, 15, have attended the Maliseets’ event several times.
“We started coming here when the children were young, because it helps me give them more exposure to Native American culture,” Maker said. “The children’s Native American relatives are scattered throughout Canada, so we don’t get to visit them that often. This just gives them a bit of education about Maliseet history and culture and where the tribe is today.”
“I haven’t been here for five years or so, so it is interesting to see how much this has grown,” Sarah Maker said. “There are so many people here.”
Just after the Grand Entry started, activity nearly stopped momentarily as an eagle flew in a cloudless blue sky overhead. Many commented that it seemed to be “a blessing from our Creator.”
Sarah Maker said she hoped to take some crafts home with her. She added that, as far as she could recall, her relatives did not practice many American Indian traditions or own many crafts or artifacts.
“I think that is part of why I like coming here,” she said Saturday. “I only see the dancing and hear the language when I come here.”