Fifteen million visitors, 60,000 jobs, and $1.5 billion in wages: that was the value of tourism to Maine’s economy in 2009. Over the past twenty years, tourism has become one of the state’s largest industries, affecting all regions from the Western Mountains to the Down East coast, and from York to Aroostook counties. Unfortunately, the benefits of this economic engine don’t often reach Wabanaki communities.
And yet, the Wabanaki tribes have a long history of engaging in tourism. Since the late 19th Century, tribal people have been selling their arts and crafts and putting on pageants to attract audiences and buyers. Wabanaki guides have led travelers through the Maine woods and on rivers for generations.
Tourism remains alive today in Wabanaki communities. Tribes and tribal members operate campgrounds and cabins and fishing and hunting guide services. Basketmakers, bead workers, wood carvers, and other craftspeople make traditional goods that appeal to visitors. There are gifted storytellers, drummers, and dance troupes. Tribal museums provide a look into the Tribes’ history over several thousand years.
The rich culture, natural resources, and hospitality traditions of the Wabanaki People are important assets to be shared with care.
Four Directions has also explored voluntourism initiatives in the past. Below is a description of a voluntourism project that FDDC conducted in partnership with Bonnie Newsom.
As the Penobscot Tribe’s Historic Preservation Officer, Bonnie had two piles of soil from tribal construction projects that had to be screened for archaeological artifacts. The problem? Her department didn’t have the personnel to get the job done. She needed more hands.
Bonnie recalls, “I thought the soil screening project would be a good fit for voluntourism because it combined an opportunity to educate people about our tribe with accomplishing something important.” Four Directions agreed and worked closely with Bonnie and other tribal departments to design and market a service trip focused on archaeology.
In mid-August, seven participants from Maine and Massachusetts gathered on Indian Island for four days of work, recreation, and learning. On the surface, their task was simple: screen dirt for stone tools, flaked stones, food bone pieces, ceramic shards, rusted nails, and other items reflecting Penobscot history. Over the course the trip, participants, alongside tribal staff, entrepreneurs, and youth leaders, filtered soil, paddled the Penobscot River, ate moose meat stew, and made sweet grass bookmarks. By the end, the group uncovered more than 150 artifacts and fragments.
As the trip unfolded, it was clear the project was about more than finding objects; it was about bringing people together to experience the rich cultural continuity of the Penobscot people and their bond with a place.
“Paddling, watching, screening, looking, reflecting, shoveling, being, observing, listening, moving, connecting…an unforgettable trip! The Penobscot River journey in the war canoes made our work completely come together. Being on the river gave us the chance to more deeply understand the connection between the Tribe and the River—the two are not separate, they are one.”
Participant Abbe Levin, Cultural Tourism Coordinator, Maine Office of Tourism.