OLD TOWN, Maine — Expect to hear resonating drum beats mixed with traditional Wabanaki songs and dance during Wednesday’s opening ceremony for the Penobscot River Whitewater Nationals Regatta, hosted by the Penobscot Indian Nation.
“We are going to have some traditional welcoming drumming and dancing,” Penobscot Nation Cultural Director James Francis said Friday. “There is going to be Penobscot history presentations and there is going to be Penobscot artists vending at the park throughout the event.”
“When you talk about the Penobscot’s history and the river — we’re intertwined with the river,” he said later.
The Penobscot Nation worked hand in hand with the Penobscot River Restoration Trust for the removal of the Great Works Dam in Bradley in 2012 and the Veazie Dam in 2013, which opened up hundreds of miles of fish habitats and had the added benefit of opening up local whitewater, according to the regatta’s website.
The 9.4-mile section of river, where the various race events will be held from July 22 to 26, starts at the waterfront park in Old Town and ends at the Eddington Salmon Club. The opening ceremony is at 5:30 p.m. July 22 at the waterfront park. Practice runs will also be held that day.
The Penobscot River Restoration Trust also is working on improving the area where the Veazie Dam was located. The area is typically locked because of the ongoing work but will be opened to allow people a bankside view for portions of the regatta.
“The Penobscot River Restoration Trust invites onlookers to view these events at the newly restored shoreline at the site of the former Veazie Dam,” an email from the town states.
The gates will be open for race viewing 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Thursday; 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Friday; and 9:30 a.m.-noon Sunday.
The Whitewater Open Canoe Downriver Competition is held every year by the American Canoe Association and has been held on the Nantahala River in North Carolina for the last three years. The event was last held in Maine on the Kennebec and Dead rivers in 2009 and on the Lower Dead River in 2005.
The race course includes three Class II-III rapids, numerous rips and quick water, according to the regatta’s website. The event will include four days of paddling events and will conclude with the American Canoe Association crowning the downriver racing national champions.
There will be a daylong riverfront gathering at the waterfront park on Saturday, July 25, and the Boomhouse Restaurant will host a public dinner that evening.
“Come celebrate our culture and the river,” Francis said.
The weekend following the regatta, the Penobscots are hosting the 2nd Annual Bashabez Run, Aug. 2, in honor of Chief Bashabez, who Samuel de Champlain witnessed leading a fleet of canoes carrying 30 people along the river in the 17th century. The canoe race starts at the waterfront park at 8 a.m. and ends at the boat landing in Brewer, near where there once was a Penobscot village.
The Penobscot people traveled frequently on birch bark canoes between that community and Indian Island before the 1850s, Francis said.
An award ceremony will be held after the race at the Penobscot Nation Annual Community Days Pageant, a cultural event that starts at noon and will feature traditional music and dance.
“It culminates on Indian Island with our annual Indian Days Pageant, which is open to the public,” Francis said. “It’s a powwow, with drumming and dancing and cultural activities.”