Centuries before British, French, Dutch, Portuguese and perhaps Norse explorers claimed to discover Maine, Native Americans called it home. Collectively known as the Wabanaki, or People of the Dawn, Maine’s Native Americans are divided into four tribes: The Micmacs and Maliseets, based in Aroostook County; the Penobscots, on Indian Island, near Orono; and the Passamaquoddy, based at Pleasant Point, in Perry, near Eastport, and at Indian Township, in Princeton, near Calais.
Among the most famous of Maine's Native Americans are: Molly Molasses, a 19th-century Penobscot medicine woman; Joe Polis and Joe Attean, Penobscot guides who led Henry David Thoreau through the Maine woods over ancient canoe routes; Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot and the first American Indian major-league baseball player; and Tomah Joseph, a Passamaquoddy canoe-maker and guide for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Wabanaki are renowned for crafts including baskets, for both display and work; birch-bark canoes; walking sticks; and beaded jewelry. Basketmakers Mary Mitchell Gabriel and Clara Neptune Keezer have been recognized as National Heritage Fellows. Passamaquoddy basketmaker Jeremy Frey received a 2010 USA Ford Fellow for Crafts and Traditional Arts.
Members of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance demonstrate and show their works at three annual events: the Native American Festival and Basketmakers Market; the Common Ground Country Fair; and the Maine Indian Basketmakers Sale and Demonstration. These events also highlight other Native arts including traditional singing, drumming and storytelling. Contemporary Native American artisans also sell from their homes; many are represented in shops and galleries, too.
Many museums have Wabanaki collections. The strongest collections are at the Abbe Museum, on Mount Desert Island; the Hudson Museum, at the University of Maine at Orono; the Maine State Museum, in Augusta; and the Penobscot Nation Museum, on Indian Island. Smaller collections of note are at the Waponaki Museum, in Pleasant Point; Nowetah's Indian Museum and Gift Store in New Portland; the Passamaquoddy Museum at Indian Township; and at local historical-society museums throughout the state. Both the Abbe and the Hudson museums are strong in children's activities. The Abbe Museum's gift shop, open year-round, has a well-chosen selection of Native American-made crafts as well as books and related merchandise.