An artist’s rendering of Tekαkαpimək Contact Station on Lookout Mountain in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The visitor center, slated to open on Aug. 17,  has displays and architectural features that highlight Wabanaki culture. Courtesy of Saunders Architecture and Mir

Tucked just below the ridgeline on Lookout Mountain, Tekαkαpimək Contact Station is designed to deliver breathtaking views of Mount Katahdin and the Wabanaki homelands that surround Maine’s highest peak and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

Visitors to the welcome center at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, set to open this summer, will experience one visual surprise after another and be immersed in Wabanaki culture along the way. That’s intentional, according to Jennifer Neptune, a member of the Wabanaki advisory board that collaborated with the architects who designed the building.

Jennifer Neptune, a Penobscot artist, writer and educator, took this selfie last fall while standing in front of an art panel she designed that has been installed in the Tekαkαpimək Contact Station at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The center opens this summer. Photo by Jennifer Neptune

The contact station is aptly named Tekαkαpimək, pronounced “de gah-gah bee mook,” which means “as far as one can see” in the Penobscot language. The approach road rises and meanders through thick forest toward the station. An overlook frames a stunning eastern view of the landscape that the Indigenous tribes in Maine call Dawnland.

From the parking area, gravel paths mimic the nearby East Branch of the Penobscot River, scaling Maine granite steps to the station’s front doors. Once inside, visitors will be drawn past soaring timber columns and interpretive displays on Wabanaki culture, arriving finally before a massive window and balcony with an astonishing view of Mount Katahdin.

“The building has the most beautiful view of Katahdin,” said Neptune, a Penobscot artist, writer and educator. “Visitors will be oriented to that place with a Wabanaki world view.”

Tekαkαpimək Contact Station is emblematic of the attention and awareness that’s building around opportunities to increase travel, tourism, recreation and education related to the culture and heritage of the Wabanaki, or “People of the First Light.” In addition to the Penobscot Nation, whose ancestral lands include the national monument established in 2016, the Wabanaki include Maliseet, Mi’kmaq and Passamaquoddy tribes that have lived in the region for millennia.


The mounting effort to promote Wabanaki cultural tourism was featured at the 2024 Governor’s Conference on Tourism, held last month in Portland, and it’s part of a global trend that’s mining growing interest in Indigenous tourism worldwide. The U.N. Tourism General Assembly identified the potential for growth in this segment of the travel industry in 2017, defining cultural tourism as activity that taps a visitor’s desire to experience a community’s distinctive history, lifestyle, beliefs and traditions.

The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association, founded by tribes in 1998, serves a $14 billion Native hospitality sector, which today includes Indigenous cultural sites in California, Oklahoma, North and South Dakota, the Grand Canyon and along Route 66. The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada was formed in 2009 to promote authentic Native tourism experiences, and there are similar travel opportunities in New Zealand, Australia and Scandinavia.

“Travelers are interested in the culture and heritage of the destinations they are visiting and the Wabanaki culture goes back 12,000 years,” said Steve Lyons, director of the Maine Office of Tourism.


Wabanaki leaders say cultural tourism is nothing new to their people, whose basket-making skills and other talents have long fostered cross-cultural exchanges with European colonizers and their descendants.

Often the outcome was disastrous, as the newcomers seized land and relegated Indigenous people to remote areas. Sometimes there was recognition, even parity. In the mid-1800s, Henry David Thoreau hired Penobscot guides to lead him on trips that resulted in “The Maine Woods,” a popular collection of his essays and poems.


Artisans make clay tiles for the Tekαkαpimək Contact Station on Lookout Mountain in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Photo by Erin Hutton

But now, the state tourism office is supporting Four Directions Development Corp. in forging its Wabanaki Cultural Tourism Initiative, providing over $270,000 in grant funding and technical assistance. The initiative grew out of the state’s first Tribal Economic Development Summit, which was convened in 2019 by the office and Four Directions, along with representatives of each tribe.

Four Directions is a nonprofit community development corporation and a Native community development financial institution certified by the U.S. Treasury Department. Established in 2001 by the Penobscot Nation, it strives to improve socioeconomic conditions for the four Wabanaki tribes in Maine through education and investment in affordable housing and business ventures.

Many of the nearly 8,700 Wabanaki members live in Aroostook and Washington counties – the northern and eastern portions of the state – in what are among the most economically challenged counties in the country, according to Four Directions. In addition to the Penobscot Nation at Indian Island, near Old Town, they include the Mi’kmac Nation in Presque Isle, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and Passamaquoddy communities at Pleasant Point and Indian Township, near Calais.

An artist’s rendering of the eastern lookout at Tekαkαpimək Contact Station in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Rendering by Reed Hilderbrand & WeShouldDoItAll

The cultural tourism initiative has been surveying tribal leaders and assessing existing community resources and infrastructure to develop a comprehensive tourism plan that will promote Wabanaki heritage and contemporary culture, said Charlene Virgilio, a Penobscot member who is executive director of Four Directions.

Charlene Virgilio, executive director of Four Directions Development Corp.  Courtesy of Charlene Virgilio

The tourism plan is expected to include strategies to engage Wabanaki youth in career development and cultural preservation. It also aims to establish an Indigenous Maine Guide program, a native tourism alliance and a Wabanaki tourism destination marketing organization.

“The goal is, by 2030, the Wabanaki tribes will have a robust tourism industry,” Virgilio said. “They’ll decide what they want to do.”


Critical to the decision-making process will be figuring out how to promote access to Indigenous places and build the infrastructure to host visitors – hotels, restaurants, gathering spaces, parking areas, shuttles – without compromising Wabanaki values or destroying the locations tourists want to see, including sacred sites that will remain off limits.

Important aspects of the tourism plan will include developing community pride and sustainable economic vitality for the tribes. Gaining economic and political sovereignty has long been a goal of the Wabanaki tribes, including 2023 legislation Gov. Janet Mills vetoed because of legal concerns and that the Legislature failed to override. The tourism plan also will call for public education and environmental awareness efforts to foster cross-cultural understanding and break down stereotypes.

“Some people come to Maine and they don’t even know we have tribes,” Virgilio said. “But the tourism industry is shifting to be more culturally aligned with who we are as a people. With the emphasis on nature and sustainability, that’s who we’ve always been. It definitely resonates with who we are, our cultural beliefs and how we take care of the land.”


On the front end of the trend, the Portland Museum of Art has emphasized Wabanaki artists in programming since its “You Can’t Get There From Here” exhibition of contemporary Maine art in 2015. It’s part of the museum’s commitment to representing artists and patrons of all backgrounds in its displays and collections.

“It’s all about wanting to be more equitable and diverse in the stories we tell,” said museum spokesman Graeme Kennedy. “We’re tapped into what people are looking for from their museums.”


An artist’s rendering of the south wing of the Tekαkαpimək Contact Station in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The visitor center, which opens Aug. 17, features displays about Wabanaki culture and history. Rendering by Aleksey Mokhov and WeShouldDoItAll

This summer, the museum will feature the work of Jeremy Frey, a seventh-generation Passamaquoddy basket maker in what the museum describes as “the first-ever major retrospective of a Wabanaki artist in a fine art museum in the United States.”

Running May 24 through Sept. 15, “Woven” will present 50 of Frey’s baskets made from black ash and sweetgrass. “It’s a love letter to the Maine landscape,” said Ramey Mize, the museum’s American art curator.

In Bar Harbor, the Abbe Museum, which is dedicated to advancing Wabanaki heritage, culture and homelands, will hold its first Dawnland Festival of Arts and Ideas on July 12-14 at the College of the Atlantic.

Tekαkαpimək Contact Station under construction in April 2023. Photo by Gary Stern

Supported by the Henry Luce Foundation and the state tourism office, the free festival is billed as an evolution of the museum’s former Indian Market and Native American Festival, which featured invitation-only native arts and performances.

The Dawnland Festival will add talks by Wabanaki and other Indigenous leaders on some of the biggest questions facing society today, including climate change, democracy and food systems. Speakers will include Penobscot attorney and author Sherri Mitchell, James Beard Award-winning chef Sherry Pocknett, of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, and Native rights attorney Michael-Corey F. Hinton, who is Passamaquoddy.

“Native arts and cultures cannot be separated from Native ways of knowing,” Betsy Richards, a Cherokee Nation citizen, executive director of the museum and senior partner with Wabanaki Nations, said in a statement.


Other museums that feature Wabanaki culture and heritage include the Penobscot Nation Museum at Indian Island, Passamaquoddy Cultural Heritage Museum at Indian Township, Wabanaki Culture Center in Calais, Hudson Museum at the University of Maine and the Maine State Museum.


Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness also plans to embrace aspects of Native cultural tourism at The Healing Lodge in Millinocket, which offers intensive outpatient services and traditional healing practices to tribal members battling substance use disorder, trauma and other mental health issues.

Nearby is The Gathering Place, a 50-acre property in the shadow of Mount Katahdin that includes 40 campsites, a sweat lodge and areas for smudging circles and other culturally centered healing experiences.

The agency plans to open the Millinocket sites to nonindigenous people as soon as summer 2025, recognizing that others may benefit from Native healing programs and wellness excursions with Mount Katahdin as the backdrop.

Lisa Sockabasin,co-CEO of Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness Courtesy of Lisa Sockabasin

“There are so many nonindigenous people who want to heal the way we heal,” said Lisa Sockabasin, a Passamaquoddy member who is the agency’s co-CEO. “It’s about connecting people to each other and to the land.”


In the meantime, the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and its partners are preparing to open Tekαkαpimək Contact Station to the public Aug. 17-18.

Managed by the National Park Service, the 87,000-acre monument beside Baxter State Park was donated to the United States by Roxanne Quimby, who founded Burt’s Bees and made a fortune when she sold it. It includes a 17-mile loop road, trails for hiking, mountain biking and snowmobiling, and paddling access along the Penobscot River’s East Branch.

The privately funded contact station is the focus of a $35 million fundraising campaign that received $10 million from the Quimby family and foundations and $1 million from the National Park Foundation. The campaign still has to raise $5 million to complete the project, which includes sustainable off-grid heating and cooling systems, accessible paths and access routes, and interpretive exhibits and artwork reflecting Wabanaki culture. Norwegian company Saunders Architecture designed the building.

An artist’s rendering of Tekαkαpimək Contact Station in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Courtesy of Saunders Architecture and Mir

Neptune, who consulted on the design, was also a member of the Wabanaki advisory board that led the development of exhibits and programming. She wrote the text for the exhibits and designed art panels that have been installed above three fireplaces in the contact station.

Printed on large wooden panels, the design features a bear and birds on a brown background resembling a birchbark etching. The panels and all of the materials on display in the contact station that reflect Indigenous cultural knowledge and intellectual property are owned by the Wabanaki Nations.

The recognition of Wabanaki culture within the contact station is extraordinary and moving for Neptune and other tribal members involved in the project. It’s an aspect of cultural tourism that validates their place in the world and the symbiotic relationship they have with the land and the water and all other beings.

“Often, we’re lucky to get a paragraph recognizing Wabanaki people,” Neptune said. “It’s hard to belong to a place and never see yourself in the visitor centers or museums and other places.”

At Tekαkαpimək Contact Station, she said, the Wabanaki will be able to share their traditions and keep them strong for future generations.

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