Fredda Paul’s Stories

By Michael R. Brown

For its regular winter programs begun several years ago, the Eastport Arts Center drew 75 people this past Sunday who were enthralled by the storytelling of Passamaquoddy elder Fredda Paul. He was assisted by ten others, each reading a tale of his life. Organized and introduced by Leslie Wood, the stories moved chronologically. 

Fredda told the first story about a star identified with each child at birth. Dolly Apt, collaborator in developing The Passamaquoddy—Maliseet Dictionary, read the second story which was about Fredda’s early family life at home while he smudged the crowd. The ritual act of smudging consists of distributing the smoke of red willow out of a birch bark basket wafted by an eagle feather over each individual in the crowd.

Anne Stanley read “Traditional Ways,” and Lynn Mitchell did a smooth reading of “Childhood Home.”

Part three of the program focused on the hardship Fredda endured during nine years he spent in an Indian Residential School, Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. His suffering has been shared with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Leslie Wood told about “A Note of Understanding.” Subsequent tales told about the regimen of milking cows, and Fredda’s habit of sneaking milk for his peers. This was presented by Cerisse McCall. Mixed in with those experiences was the harsh treatment by some of the nuns told by Peter Frewan, and confrontation with a 3,000 pound Holstein bull he named Butch. Fredda characterized Butch as “the only parent I had.”

Another tale, relevant upon his return to Sipayik (Pleasant Point), consisted of the coming of the whales, which heralded the return of the varieties of fish in the summer season. This story was read by Greg Biss. Owing to the central place in the lives of a certain fish, the Passamaquoddy became known as “the Pollack people.”

Susan Coopersmith read a story about how the Passamaquoddy use muskrat skin to cure infant illness. Petak Dana related a humorous story, “Hold Them by the Tail,” about how to catch a skunk, which was something an elder taught Fredda after he had been skunked. 

The reading program ended with Fredda talking about and reading how he learned to create poems.  One of the most striking focused on “how to find yourself.”

When asked what was the best thing that ever happened to him, Fredda told a story about when a staph infection so debilitated him that his weight was under 100 pounds. In rehabilitation he had to learn to walk again, but being able to walk when he returned home was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Leslie Wood asked the crowd if they would like to hear more stories at another time. It was decided to meet at Dastardly Dick’s café on Sunday, February 26, at 1 pm. 

 

Fredda and Leslie also put out a newsletter that contains current happenings, stories, information about native medicine, and other information relevant to the tribe. Contact Kuwesi-medicine News, PO Box 274, Perry, ME 04667. Call 853-4578, email wildwoodleslie@hotmail or go to www.kuwesimedicine.info.