Indian Township is the home of Maine’s Passamaquoddy Tribe, located near
the town of Princeton in Washington County. One way to get there is by
taking scenic route 6 East off of 95 towards Lincoln, and Topsfield into
Princeton. It’s as close to a skyline drive as any road in Maine. On a
clear day, the landscape extends all the way to Mount Katadin in Baxter
State Park. Surprisingly few Maine citizens visit Indian Township.
The Passamoquoddy community is also home for Father Frank Morin, 55, a
Roman Catholic priest and pastor of St. Ann’s Church located in Indian
Township. Father Morin is an ardent genealogist who is knowledgeable
about the history of his French Acadian father and his Irish mother’s
families. His simple lakeside rectory is decorated with dozens of old
maps, hundreds of books and assorted historic artifacts describing how
the colonial French explorers traveled the coast of Maine and the
Canadian Maritime Provinces during the 16th and 17th centuries.
“I feel very much at home here,” he says.
As early as the late 16th century, French Jesuit missionaries began evangelizing the Native Americans of Maine and Canada. Consequently, the French influence is evident in Indian Township’s parish, particularly in religious images. St. Ann is patron saint of Franco-Americans and the Passamoquoddy. A lovely large traditional statue of her in the pose of teaching her daughter, Mary, is located in the adjacent scenic cemetery amidst a cluster of simple wooden crosses and a few ornately decorated granite stones.
Hanging in the small foyer of St. Ann’s is a framed copy of a letter written in 1791 from the Micmac and Passamaquoddy Maine Indians to Bishop Charles Carroll of Baltimore requesting a priest for St. Ann’s. Behind the altar is a huge panoramic painting and lifelike wood carvings depicting native people from around the world, creating a magnificent focal point. Inscribed in the altar painting in bold letters is the message, “People of the Dawn”. Passamoquoddy elder George Stevens, 81, moved to Indian Township in 1946.
In 1998, Stevens was ordained a Deacon at St. Ann’s. Stevens says the
Passamoquoddy people support St. Ann’s Church. despite some recent
sentiment among members of the tribe to return to native religious roots
that preceded the introduction of Christianity, “We always requested a
priest for Indian Township,” he recalls. In fact, those supporting the
parish are slowly growing in number. “The population of Indian Township
has grown since by about 50 percent since the late 1970s, as
Passamoquoddy from New England are returning to the reservation”, says
Stevens. Today, the population is 680 people. Some new tribe members
are attending St. Ann’s Church, he says.
Most evident among St. Ann’s religious icons are several shrines of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk Indian maiden who died in 1680 at 24 years old. She was a disciple of the French Jesuits. There’s been a movement to canonize her as a saint ever since her death. Her shrines are adorned with flowers and bird feathers in honor off her status as the daughter of a Mohawk chief.
One of the newer cemetery head stones displays a detailed carved image
of Kateri engraved into shiny granite. The grave was smothered with
colorful silk flowers. It was the first time I’ve seen Kateri’s youthful
image, typically displayed in stained glass or in wood carvings, put on
view as a cemetery marker. A trip to Indian Township is certainly an
education about Maine’s earliest history and an orientation to the
origins of the state’s colonial French and Indian culture.