MACHIAS, Maine — Two Passamaquoddy culture bearers brought their traditional music to the nation’s capital Wednesday when they performed in two hour-long concerts at the Library of Congress American Folklife Center.
Wayne Newell and Blanche Sockabasin of Indian Township play and sing traditional Passamaquoddy music, and theirs was the first appearance in the Center’s Music of America series by citizens of a Wabanaki nation.
“I can’t think of any two more incredible people to represent us,” Pleasant Point Tribal Council member Denise Altvater said Wednesday. “They have done so much to make the tribe visible. To have two Maine people there is really, really important.”
The American Folklife Center’s series “Homegrown: The Music of America” began in 2002 and presents traditional music and dance from communities across the United States.
Newell is recognized as a traditional elder of great wisdom who is a bridge between native and non-native cultures, according to information in the weekly newspaper Indian Country Today.
He is the director of native language and cultural services at Indian Township School in Princeton, holds a master’s degree from Harvard, and in 1971 introduced the first bilingual-bicultural education program for the Passamaquoddy Tribe. This program includes the Passamaquoddy language in the school curriculum.
He also has served as a tribal council member, tribal representative to the Legislature, a member of the Human Rights Commission, and on the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission.
Sockabasin teaches native music, drumming, singing and dancing at Indian Township School and also makes baskets and leather crafts. She recently was honored by the Legislature for her efforts in preserving the Passamaquoddy way of life and language.
Newell and Sockabasin performed in the afternoon at the Folklife Center and in the evening at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage.