FORT KENT, Maine — One of the major goals of Wesget Sipu Inc., a nonprofit organization in the St. John Valley, is to preserve the cultural traditions of the Micmac and Maliseet tribes.
The possibility of reaching that goal may be a little greater because the organization has received a $572,746 grant, Wesget Sipu program manager Marie Danielle Leblanc said Tuesday.
Wesget Sipu is a Micmac term that translates to “Fish River People,” according to the organization’s Web site. The organization is a group of families, mostly living in the St. John Valley, that follows the cultural traditions of their Maliseet and Micmac heritage.
Wesget Sipu, established in 1998, just received the first installment of the grant, which will be distributed over three years. The grant was awarded by the Administration for Native Americans’ Social Economic Development Strategies program, which falls under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families division.
Leblanc said the money will help finance a project called “The Preservation of the Ancestral and Cultural Heritage of the Maliseet and Micmac People known as the Wesget Sipu of the St. John Valley, Maine.”
“This project is being put on by our organization and it has three major objectives,” she said Tuesday. “Our first goal is to trace the genealogies of at least 75 percent of the families who make up the Wesget Sipu tribe. We are going to use what we find during our research to create an electronic database for all tribal members that will help them create their family trees.”
Leblanc said researchers will travel to locations throughout the region, including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec, which is where their ancestors originated. While there, researchers plan to interview tribal elders and visit different archives in those regions to help trace their ancestry.
“As we travel, we will accomplish the second part of our project,” she said. “We want to collect 6,000 articles, maps, pictures, letters, pottery and other pieces related to our ancestral heritage. We have formed a partnership with the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent in order to preserve these articles as part of our history.”
The third goal is to pass along that history to the next generation.
“It is so important to us to pass on the traditions of our culture to our youth, and the grant is really going to be very important in helping us do that,” Leblanc said. “We have already started engaging our elders in an effort to pass on what they know to our young people.”
As part of that initiative, Leblanc said, tribal elders will teach youths traditional activities such as making snowshoes, drumming, dancing, basketry, hunting, fishing and medicinal uses of plants.
“Our elders are going to be volunteering their time to pass on these traditions to our children,” she said. “We have already started doing basketry, and our youth are being shown how to find black ash trees, make the strips, and weave the strips into baskets. This month, our elders will be teaching about plant medicines.”
Leblanc said that such events will help “stimulate our youth to be interested in their traditions.”
“We really believe that young people suffer from a lack of identity when they are not exposed to their heritage,” she said. “That can lead to a number of problems, and those are problems that we want to combat. We do not want people to lose interest in their heritage.”
Leblanc said that all activities are open to tribal members and the general community.
“Our hope is that this project will instill pride and a sense of identity for the community and to our Native American people,” she said.