Passamaquoddy, EPA work to
By Diana Graettinger, Of the NEWS
MEDDYBEMPS — The state identified the archaeological site with a
number: Site 96.02.
But to the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the former toxic waste dump is
the home of their ancestors, so the tribal elders have named it
“Ntolonapemk” — “My Relatives’ Place.”
Earlier this week, representatives of the tribe, the state and
the federal governments held an open house at the archaeological dig
that has been called the largest in Washington County and one of the
largest east of the Penobscot River.
During the past few months, the site has produced a wealth of
artifacts that date back 8,000 years. It was the site of a
The site also tells the tale of a 50-year tragedy. For more than
half a century, the 5-acre parcel was the dumping ground for
military storage containers filled with hazardous materials, as well
as salvage scrap metal, miscellaneous debris and old military
In 1985, inspectors from the state Department of Environmental
Protection detected strong chemical odors, leaking electrical
transformers, hundreds of deteriorating gas cylinders and other
hazardous waste at the site.
The state launched an emergency cleanup and notified the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, which took over. Three years ago,
the site, which is bordered by Meddybemps Lake, the Dennys River,
Route 191 and Stone Road, was added to EPA’s list of priority
projects for further cleanup under the Superfund program. Such a
listing made Meddybemps eligible for federal cleanup money.
In May of last year during the cleanup, American Indian artifacts
were found at the site. Once the artifacts were found, EPA began to
work closely with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and the
tribe to preserve the site. The results of that cooperative effort
led to the open house on Tuesday.
Pleasant Point tribal Gov. Rick Doyle said he had approached some
elders to ask them what the site should be called. It was the tribal
elders who named Ntolonapemk or My Relatives’ Place.
“This is the story of the Passamaquoddy people in Meddybemps,”
said state tribal Rep. Donald Soctomah during the ceremonies.
The glacier cover of the Passamaquoddy Bay rebounded several
times in the last 50,000 years, and a thin corridor of land was
exposed, making it habitable. About 14,000 years ago, the massive
glacier made its final retreat from the Maine coast … exposing a
“This was the creation of Meddybemps Lake and the Dennys River,”
Soctomah said. “The Passamaquoddy have adapted to changes in the
environment in order to survive.”
As a Passamaquoddy village, the men hunted and fished, women
gathered plants and made birch bark containers, and children played
games with each other, he said.
The tribal representative said the working village existed long
before the Egyptians built their pyramids and the Mayans built their
temples. “One unique aspect of this village was the amount of
dug-out canoes built here, which is visible by the number of stone
gouges which were found at the site,” he said.
In a 1798 report to the a boundary commission, Soctomah said,
Chief Francis Joseph Neptune “described this lake as an important
water corridor. Visitors from other tribes would stop by to trade
stones for making tools.”
Indian Township tribal Gov. Richard Stevens told the group how he
felt standing at the site of his ancestors’ home.
“Today my chest is filled with pride and honor for the
Passamaquoddy people. Today my people can see through a window into
their past and see the great accomplishments of our ancestors. Today
we can see examples of tools and a way of life that worked with the
natural world, not against it.
“We lived on this land for thousands of years, and we did not
poison it,” Stevens said. “We took care of it for the generations of
Passamaquoddys to come. Today my ancestors are happy,” he said,
“happy that once again this sacred ground is clean.”
Patricia Meaney, director of EPA’s site remediation and
restoration, called the cleanup a partnership among the tribe, state
and federal government.
The artifacts found at the site will be held in trust for the
Passamaquoddy at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor until the tribe’s
museum at Pleasant Point is federally certified and licensed.
Arthur Spiess, director of the Maine Historic Preservation
Commission, said the site represents a success story. “The
archaeological work will rewrite our understanding of the remote
past in eastern Maine, and it is a major contribution to science,”
he said. “In addition to improving our understanding of the past,
the work on the site has built many relationships for us in the
present that will extend into the future.”
Spiess said the site was listed on the state’s inventory as Maine
Archaeological Survey Site 96.02. “That’s not a particularly poetic
designation, nor is it particularly memorable, except to those of us
who had it branded into our minds by administrative work over the
last couple of years,” he said. Spiess said he was pleased when the
Passamaquoddy gave it the name and said all future Maine
Archaeological Survey records would reflect that new name.