In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network


Music makers include musicians, artists, and craftspeople who make instruments, write songs, and make music in the home and community settings.
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The First Music of Maine

Wabanaki peoples created the first music of Ckuwaponahkiyik when they emerged, singing and dancing, from an ash tree split by culture hero Gluscabe. Music reflects Wabanaki cosmology, or world views. Instruments like flutes, drums, and rattles extend these cultural traditions.

Developed over centuries, music in Wabanaki communities, including Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abenaki Nations, connects to storytelling, history, spirituality, dance,
healing, and artistic traditions. Some music and dance traditions happen seasonally for harvesting, social, and ceremonial events. Other songs honor and welcome visitors or prepare loved ones for their journey after death.

Hand drums and flutes are some of the oldest instruments created by humans. The melodies of birdsong and woodpeckers pounding on trees inspired Wabanaki peoples to imitate the sounds.

Rattle by Peter Moore, Sipayik, 2018
Rattle by Peter Moore, Sipayik, 2018
Maine Historical Society

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Wabanaki musicians traveled worldwide showcasing their talents and performing in operas, vaudeville, and so-called “Wild West” shows. They met and sang with
people from other Indigenous communities, blending cultural traditions. Around this time, the large drum of the Plains Nations became part of broader Indigenous social gatherings, creating a network powwows across what is now North America. Bruce Poolaw brought the large drum tradition of his Kiowa Homeland to Maine in 1929 when he moved to the Penobscot Nation with his spouse, Lucy Nicolar.

Music continues to be a critical tool for connecting Wabanaki communities, and revitalizing and perpetuating the languages of Abenaki, Passamaquoddy/Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, and Penobscot peoples.

Music and colonialism

Europeans began settling in Wabanaki Homelands about 400 years ago, incorporating music into religious conversion in attempts to erase Wabanaki culture.

Jesuit missionary Eugene Vetromile (1819-1881), from Italy, ministered to Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot communities from 1854 to 1881. Vetromile translated Catholic hymns and scripture into Indigenous languages, but also recorded the oral histories and songs in Wabanaki languages including Abenaki, Passamaquoddy/Maliseet, Penobscot, and Mi’kmaq languages.

He created this several books, including Aln'ambay Uli Awikhigan, The prayer song, 1858,

To give practical instructions on Church-music, in order to aid the Native Americans to sing the praises of the Lord…but also to preserve several unwritten national tunes, kept by them only by tradition.

Powwow Music
By Chris Sockalexis

Powwow Music length is 64 characters.
Powwow Music length is 64 characters.Click to read Chris Sockalexis's story

A powwow is a gathering held by many Native American and First Nations communities. Powwows are an opportunity for Indigenous people to socialize, dance, sing, sell their art, and honor their cultures. Most powwows are open to the public. I like to describe a powwow as a gathering where you’re with good people, eating good food, with good music, and in a good place.

Powwow music primarily consists of drumming and singing, whether it’s a solo singer with a hand drum or multiple people sitting and singing together around a larger drum. There are many styles of singing, depending upon the regionality of each tribal community.

My group, The RezDogs, are an intertribal drum group based on Indian Island. Since 1998, we have travelled extensively throughout the East Coast performing at powwows, music and art festivals, and other events, sharing our style of singing. Like all other drum groups across North America, the RezDogs compose and record our own original songs.