The Burnurwurbskek Singers, a Penobscot Nation men’s drum group, performs during the Wabanaki Marketplace held at Shaker Village on Saturday. The powwow drum is made from moose hide and cedar. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

NEW GLOUCESTER — After playing a traditional Native American song of chants, drumming, and Native language on Saturday, Ron Bear stepped out of the performers’ circle.

He thanked and welcomed the hundreds who attended the 14th annual Wabanaki Marketplace at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village.

“We’d like to get a little crowd participation here,” said Bear, of Indian Island, home of the Penobscot Nation. “We’re going to have what we call the round dance,” Bear continued, musing that the dance would not be a square dance. “We’d like to get people up and enjoy the power and energy of the song.”

At first a few people, then dozens, joined hands and formed a circle around the Burnurwurbskek Singers. The participating audience danced in step, mostly. Their faces beamed as the chants and sound of drums filled the air.

The Burnurwurbskek Singers is a group representing Maine’s Wabanaki people, including the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Micmac tribes. The group performs songs that have been passed down for generations.

Before and after the performance, more than 40 tribal artists sold their wares in the Wabanaki Marketplace: ash and sweetgrass baskets, beadwork, birch bark etchings, wood carvings, jewelry, and handmade dolls. It is an annual event, but one that has not been held since 2019 because of the pandemic.


Women dance at Saturday’s marketplace in New Gloucester, which was last held in 2019. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I’m so glad that we’re back,” said Amy Briggs, Ron Bear’s fiancee. “It’s been four years since we’ve been able to do this.”

Saturday’s marketplace is one of the band’s favorite spots to perform, said Briggs, also of Indian Island. “The turnout is always amazing. Everybody here is so supportive and very kind and interested in what they’re doing.”

Barry Dana, of Solon, a former Penobscot chief, said that despite the three-year hiatus, the event didn’t miss a beat.

“It’s like we were here today,” he said, adding that the Shakers welcome hosting the event. Some markets and shows purport to feature Native American artists who actually aren’t, Dana said. On Saturday, each artisan “is authentic,” he said. Dana leads educational programs about Penobscot culture. On Saturday, he was one of the artisans selling maple syrup and birch bark baskets.

In her booth, Frances Soctomah was selling jewelry she created. One pair of her earrings featured an image of the sun, paying tribute to her Passamaquoddy tribe known as “People of the Dawn.” She is the granddaughter of Molly Neptune Parker, a Native American famous for her baskets.

A Passamaquoddy artist, Soctomah said she has been coming to the New Gloucester market since her grandmother brought her as a child. She learned basketry from her grandmother and recently started branching out to other forms of Wabanaki art. Saturday’s market is preferred by Maine tribe members, she said, because in part “the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village is interested in building relationships with us and building community.”


Passamaquoddy artist Frances Soctomah sells her handmade jewelry at the Wabanaki Marketplace. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

This year’s market comes amid a growing awareness that before the Europeans came to Maine centuries ago, Maine was the land of the Wabanaki tribes.

That recognition “is great,” said Julieanne Reed, of Mexico, who said as an artist herself, she appreciates Native American art. One of her friends has made Facebook posts about how Mainers are on Wabanaki land. “We should do more of that,” Reed said.

Dana said the country is experiencing a sea change. “We finally have more confidence about speaking up that, ‘Wait a minute, this is stolen land!’ It’s growing.”

Another who came to Saturday’s event was Fiona Hopper, of Portland, the Wabanaki studies coordinator for Portland Public Schools. She was there Saturday to support the Wabanaki culture, traditions, and artists. Portland schools are developing a comprehensive, pre-K-12 Wabanaki curriculum, which will be the first in the state, Hopper said. That curriculum should be delivered to Portland students in 2024-25.

One common myth that Hopper hears from students “is that the Wabanaki people don’t exist,” Hopper said.

Too many think that the Wabanaki people are from the past and not of the present, she said. The curriculum will educate students not only about the history of the people who have lived in Maine for thousands of years but also about the 8,000-plus Wabanaki who live throughout Maine today.

Today’s Wabanaki population is a fraction of what it was before European settlers came to New England and the deaths of Native Americans were widespread from wars and disease. In the 1700s, Wabanaki tribes confronted repeated waves of English settlements deep into their lands, according to “First Peoples” of the Maine State Museum.

Saturday was the first year the event was renamed the Wabanaki Marketplace, instead of the Maine Native American Summer Market, said Michael Graham, director of the Shaker Village. The marketplace is the largest gathering of Wabanaki artists in Maine, Graham added.

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