Passaconaway’s Descendants Struggle to Protect Sacred Site

September 26, 2008

Author: Gale Courey Toensing

Source: Indian Country Today

When oral tradition and spiritual practice come up against the dominant society’s ideas about property rights and land use, who gets to decide what is historical fact, what is legend and what is sacred?

In York, a pristine southern Maine town of ocean-view mansions and a bustling summer tourist trade, that dilemma is playing out between the Mount Agamenticus Conservation Region – a nonprofit conservation coalition of state, town, landowners and environmental organizations – and a small group of local American Indians who are trying to protect their sacred site on Mount Agamenticus.

The group is led by Brian Spirit Bear Michaud, Pennacook/Micmac, who complained last summer to Robin Stanley, coordinator of the conservation region, and to the town manager about the removal of stones from a mound at the mountain’s summit that memorializes 17th century Pennacook Chief Sachem Passaconaway.

Descendants of the Pennacook, an Eastern Abenaki Nation tribe in southern coastal Maine and northern New Hampshire, have gathered for hundreds of years at this stone mound for prayer and ceremonies. Michaud told Indian Country Today. They traditionally add a “prayer stone” to the pile.

The mound pays homage to St. Aspinquid, Passaconaway’s Christian name. The Pennacooks believe that Passaconaway (“Son of the Bear”) banished an evil spirit from the mountain and was buried there.

Last summer, the conservation region and town removed stones from the mound and used them to border a garden of shrubs and other plantings.

Now Stanley says St. Aspinquid “never existed” and the rock pile should be moved.