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The Penobscot Nation Cultural and Historic Preservation Department, along with select tribal members, and knowledgeable Maine teachers worked collaboratively to design this culturally appropriate, teacher-friendly curriculum. We worked to make sure it met the requirements of the Maine Native American Studies Law (Maine State Law 2001 Chapter 403, An Act to Require Teaching of Maine Native American History and Culture in Maine’s Schools–or LD 291, as it is often referred to.)

Our vision is to develop rich, user-friendly materials and to give a voice to the Wabanaki people in classrooms throughout Maine.

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Students will learn about the valuable contributions Penobscot people have made throughout American history. Teachers will find downloadable biographies of Penobscot people. This unit was designed to be used with the local assessment for the third and fourth grade social studies curriculum called Maine People, Maine Events.

Course Files

Biographies Curriculum Unit

Biographies and Articles


Downloadable Resources

In this unit, students will learn about the unique family structure of the Penobscot people by exploring their own family relationships and comparing them to those of the Penobscots. Starting with the self and moving through nuclear and extended family and beyond, students will also explore their relationships with neighbors, community, county, state, nation – and ultimately, their global relationships.

Course Files

Family Ties Curriculum Unit


Downloadables Resources

The Penobscot people understood the complexities of their environment – how to navigate the Penobscot River in all seasons, for instance – and had a detailed knowledge of the land long before European settlers arrived.

In this unit, students will become historians and gather information about the Penobscot or Wabanaki people and study maps with place names in Penobscot and explore their meanings. Students will then use what they learn about the language to navigate their way through the Penobscot River.

This unit was created by the Penobscot people to deepen student awareness about the historical and complex Penobscot knowledge of the land we now call Maine and to refute the many resources that claim the Penobscot people lacked this understanding.

Course Files

Homeland Curriculum Unit


Downloadable Resources

In this unit, students will learn about pre-Revolutionary War Penobscot Nation military history and about the many contributions Penobscot tribal members made in the defense of the United States since the Revolutionary War despite their social status – Native Americans were not considered U.S. citizens until 1924 and were denied voting rights in Federal elections until 1954 and in state and local elections until 1967.

For thousands of years, the Penobscots have relied on the rivers of Maine for food, drinking water, transportation, and many other facets of their culture.

Like Lynne Cherry’s book A River Ran Wild, which provided inspiration for this unit, each lesson examines a phase in the history of the river. Although the unit focuses on the Penobscot River, the heart of Penobscot culture, it can be adapted for any river in Maine.


Lessons: Eras of a River

Creation of the Penobscot River: the Penobscot perspective Penobscot settlements along the landscape Village life in the settlements European culture and the landscape European settlements along the landscape The Industrial Revolution and its effects on the river Pollution and clean up of the river. The future of the river.
Cover design and wrap up.

The Penobscot Nation Cultural and Historic Preservation Department developed downloadable PowerPoint presentations for each lesson. They can stand alone or be used with other units and other curriculum. For instance, parts of the River unit can be integrated into third grade studies of local communities, fourth grade Maine studies or regions of Maine curriculum, or 7th or 9th grade world geography courses.

The River can also be the basis of a year-long unit in which all lessons about mapping a community, biome studies, and studies of local history and industry are related back to the Penobscot or other rivers.

This unit, which should be taught first, deconstructs common stereotypes of Native Americans and helps students identify and understand their own preconceived notions. The unit includes five activities: readings in social consciousness, a study of Native American groups across the country, two scavenger hunts, and “identifying stereotypes,” which teaches students how to identify their own attitudes toward Native Americans and encourages them to evaluate books, movies and other resources that may contain stereotypes.

We piloted the stereotypes unit in the Old Town, Maine elementary school library with fifth grade students. As they learned about Native Americans across the United States and in Maine, they were introduced to important resource evaluation skills. The school Librarian/Media Specialist Lynn Lowell Mayer developed a resource list, available as a download.

Note: While this unit was being pilot tested in 2005, an historic event took place in Old Town, Maine: largely in response to the wishes of the Council of the Penobscot Nation, the Old Town school board voted unanimously to remove their long- standing Indian mascot. This important event reflects a shifting climate nationwide on the appropriateness of Indian mascots.



Through literature – like Louise Erdrich’s Birch Bark House – students will gain an historical perspective and understanding about the devastating effect European-bred diseases had on Indian communities. Included is a document outlining modern diseases that affect Penobscot people. Through the lesson called Community Helpers, students will explore how the Penobscot Nation at Indian Island functions today, bringing a modern context to the effects of disease on a community. Students can also view literature from the Penobscot Nation Health Department and learn about diseases that still plague the Penobscot people today.

By the fall of 1950, Sylvester Francis had taken the last group of passengers across the river from Old Town to Indian Island in his ferry. Soon, a one-lane, steel girder bridge replaced the ferry and a new age had come to the Penobscot community. With the bridge, of course, came change – both positive and negative. By the mid-1980s, the social winds were changing again, and the old green bridge was replaced by a modern two-lane structure.

  • Through this unit, students will be introduced to the unique Indian Island community.
  • Explore the physical and cultural ramifications of being isolated on an island.
  • Learn about the changes that have taken place over time.
  • Discover the links between two towns – Old Town and Indian Island – and two cultures.
  • Understand how bridges link communities metaphorically and socially as well as physically.

Penobscot people have a history of performing as “Indians” in vaudeville acts, at Wild West shows, at tourist resorts, and at sportsmen’s shows – often as a way to pay the bills. However, many of these performers – Frank Loring known as Chief Big Thunder, Molly Nelson known as Molly Spotted Elk, Roland Nelson known as Chief Needabeh, and Lucy Nicolar know as Princess Watahwaso – left a lasting legacy in Penobscot history.

This unit highlights the rich singing, dancing, and regalia tradition – much of it the same as you might find in a modern day competition pow-wow.

Students will learn about the important role that economics played in performance arts, the entertainment history of Penobscot people, modern-day pow-wows, including songs, dance and dress, and the cultural and historic significance of Penobscot music and songs.


This unit takes an introductory look at a very complicated subject and requires teachers to do some background research. Materials include letters to politicians at the time of the land claims controversy in the late 1970s, and teachers should use their discretion about what they use with their students. Students should be encouraged to evaluate both State of Maine viewpoint and the Penobscot viewpoint.

This unit explores the rich tradition of Maine Indian basket-making and is divided into two sections: The Story of My Basket, which outlines the steps involved in making a basket, and The Economics of Basket-making, in which students learn why it takes more than one person to make a basket.


Read a sampling of stories and plays, including Gluskabe, and then learn about his importance to the Wabanaki people. This unit is designed to be an introduction to the complex subject of Oral Traditions and Wabanaki Legends.

Penobscot Nation Cultural and Historic Preservation Department and Old Town Elementary School Librarian Lynn Lowell Mayer developed a Resource List to help teachers and students choose the proper tool to teach about Maine Native Americans. This list is a work in progress and will be occasionally updated.

Media Specialist Resource List