During January, staff and volunteers transformed the Abbe Museum’s main gallery into a simulated canoe trip down a Maine river. On Thursday, February 7, the Abbe will open a new exhibit entitled Wabanaki Guides. This thematic exhibit illustrates how the Wabanakis’ expert knowledge of land and waterways, has influenced the Maine visitor experience throughout history - from European contact in the 1600s up to the present day. Stories and historic accounts from a variety of individuals, including Henry David Thoreau and Joseph Treat, will illustrate how guiding is still intrinsically linked to the tribes, tourism, economics and environmental sustainability in Maine.
Hunting with a tribal guide means having a connection to the land and the species that goes back for thousands of years. That connection is formed through the hunting knowledge that comes with being a tribal member. It is knowledge learned from their parents, uncles, and grandfathers—men in the community that have passed that knowledge down for generations. Knowing the land, the species, when to hunt, where to hunt, hunting techniques—the knowledge of these things has been passed down for 10,000 years. --- Matt Dana, Passamaquoddy guide.
Upon entering the exhibit, visitors will be able to imagine themselves embarking on a canoe trip into the Maine woods, the ancestral home of the Wabanaki for 12,000 years. In this place of rugged beauty, and harsh weather, newcomers depended on their guides to teach them how to travel, hunt, and survive in the woods. Museum visitors will be encouraged to consider the wildness and vastness of the Maine woods and the challenges that lie within.
The birchbark canoe is featured as the primary mode of transportation. Prior to the invention of the birchbark canoe, which happened about 3,000 years ago, the Wabanaki likely traveled in wooden dug out canoes which were heavy and difficult to portage. With the invention of the much lighter birchbark canoe, people could travel faster and further. This pre-contact invention demonstrates ingenuity, creativity, and represents a desire to explore one’s resources and create a broader world. The birchbark canoe was a major influence on the Wabanaki way of life and on guiding; canoes of all types still continue to be one of the best ways to travel to remote places in Maine in the warmer months.