FAIRFIELD — As a child, Allen Sockabasin used to climb to the top of a pine tree outside his village near Princeton to dream.

“I used to pretend I was a speaker and pretend I was a singer,” said the 68-year-old Passamaquoddy.

On the radio, he heard applause for bluegrass performers and he sought that same appreciation and validation.

On Monday, he told students at Kennebec Montessori School that, for him, the applause came in the form of wind whistling through the leaves.

Students at Kennebec Montessori School frequently applauded Sockabasin after he serenaded them with songs in English and Passamaquoddy, including Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” and the nursery rhyme “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

Sockabasin, a former tribal governor and a Passamaquoddy language teacher, was at the school Monday to share his culture with children a few days before Thanksgiving.

Over the years, a number of Sockabasin’s dreams have come true; he’s a published author, speaker and singer, and he is helping to preserve his native language through songs.

As a child, when Sockabasin returned to the ground from his pine tree perch, his reality was often harsh.

Native Americans were denied voting rights and the use of public bathrooms. Area barbers refused to cut Native Americans’ hair, claiming they were dirty, Sockabasin said.

When he walked with his family, people traveling by in automobiles threw trash at them. He and other Native American children were not allowed to sit with white children at movie theaters.

“We were called drunken Indians and chief and squaw,” Sockabasin said.

But he persevered.

And the experience, he said, taught him to stand tall and be proud.

On a trip to Germany, the self-taught man visited elders there.

“They spoke with a smile. I recognized that smile as being one that my elders had (in my village),” he said. “I was determined to restore the Passamaquoddy language.”

His children’s book “Thanks to the Animals,” is based on a story he heard from his mother. It contains phonetically spelled Passamaquoddy names for animals, including Gah-gah-koos for crow and Aduke for deer.

As Sockabasin prepared to leave a classroom that included 3- to 5-year-olds, the children said “wool-lee-wun.” That’s Passamaquoddy for thank you.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]

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