Re-Site: As American As Cherry Pie
Heather Flor Cron
10:00am - 12:00pm
As American as Cherry Pie is a curated picnic within the park that confronts and implicates participants in the history of Deering Oaks Park and so-called “Portland”. Deering Oaks Park has been a space sanctuary from downtown Portland for everyone. For decades you could find children playing in the water fountains on a hot summer day, a family picnicking, King Middle School’s tennis team having practice, or even a ice hockey game on the pond on a cold February day. All of these activities take place on top of Wabanaki Land. This is a site that was once of great significance to the Indigenous population, as it was marshland that fed into Casco Bay. This piece of land was not only sacred to the original peoples, but soon after settler occupation became a place of much violence. Hundreds if not thousands of Indigenous and settler people were killed on this site. I am interested in this forgotten history in context to the everyday life that takes place now in Deering Oaks Park.
I will lay out a picnic with red gingham tablecloths, picnic basket, and cherry pie, a seemingly “all American” picnic. Printed on the linen napkins will be histories of this site from pre-colonial times to the present day, where it serves as an encampment to unhoused people after the city closed the shelter. The purpose is to engage viewers to think about their participation in occupying Native land, to reflect on how our community has failed the unhoused people, to reevaluate how their privilege allots them allowances to not see these realities.
A note on historical narratives
The histories that ground the Re-Site have been cultivated from primary and secondary sources, accessible with thanks to the on-going efforts of collecting organizations and libraries, community members, and historians. The stories that define people and place shift in the currents that pull our socio-cultural priorities: they ebb and flow. Our knowing is reliant on those who have preserved records and have previously woven those pieces together, but we must always be mindful of the records not archived, the voices obscured and silenced, and the perspectives we have neglected and forgotten. History is happening right now.
Site History: Maine’s Centennial and Deering Oaks Park
At this site from June 28 to July 5, 1920, members of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Tribes were on public display from June 28 to July 5, 1920, when they agreed to set up an “Indian Village” on the north shore of the Duck Pond as a part of the Maine Centennial Exposition.The Centennial intended, among other things, to promote Maine businesses, including the cottage industry of Indian basket-making. For native people, however, the encampment was a reminder of what they had lost since Maine became a state and before. The encampment showed the Wabanaki in traditional clothing, living in tipis and engaging in dances and other traditional activities: it did not represent the Indians as they actually lived in Penobscot and Washington counties. In September 1689, during King William’s War, English colonist and ranger Benjamin Church helped defend the British colonizers on this site against Canadiens, and tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy. This site offers an entrypoint to explore performance of culture, Wabanaki history and contemporary life, the relationship between government and minority or disenfranchised communities in public spaces.
“Indian Village” and Maine Centennial Exposition
Most events were held at the Exposition Building and were intended to showcase Maine-made goods, foster unity among businessmen, strengthen the state’s industrial and agricultural interests, and develop the state’s resources.The official Centennial program pointed out that Deering Oaks was “the scene of one of Portland’s greatest Indian battles, a tablet erected there commemorating the event.” It also noted that “Bullets that were fired from the guns of the early pioneers in these engagements with the Indians are still found in the trunks of some of the old trees.”
Passamaquoddy Governor William Neptune, 45, and his family were on hand at the Indian Village at Deering Oaks. Clara Neptune was among those who dressed in traditional finery and camped at Deering Oaks Park during the week-long centennial celebration that included musical concerts, sports programs, a large parade, and exhibits of warships, airplanes, submarines and U.S. Cavalry troops.
Most Passamaquoddies, from Washington County, worked as basket-makers or laborers at the time of the Centennial. The local newspaper, The Eastern Argus, wrote “Indians made many sacrifices to come here.” While in Portland, Penobscot and Passamaquody people demonstrated their basket-making skills and other crafts and sold items they made to the crowds of onlookers. Passamaquoddy Governor William Neptune told the local newspaper that Indians were losing fishing and basket-making time by attending the event in Portland .Governor Neptune told the local newspaper that 65 years earlier, Indians hunted and fished and did not have to make baskets to sell to make a living. “White people have stripped us from top to bottom.”
Also encamped at Deering Oaks Park were Boy Scouts, many of whose programs were based on Indian traditions.
Deering Oaks Park
A 55-acre naturalistic park, Deering Oaks is the last remaining parcel of the 260-acre Nathaniel Deering farm, established in 1761. Originally a large tidal flat that drained into Back Cove, the marsh was turned into a mill pond with tidal gates in 1806. In 1879, city civil engineer William Goodwin prepared a design that closed the tidal gates to create a four-acre pond and enhanced the shoreline with peninsulas and inlets (one crossed by a bridge wide enough for carriages) to give the illusion of a larger pond. Goodwin’s plan also disturbed as few trees as possible, provided generous parkland with lawn and trees around the pond, and added a network of paths and roads with direct connections to city streets. Goodwin’s plan was part of an overall master plan for city parks developed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Formal play areas were added after 1902. Goodwin’s vision largely survives today, except only for the loss of a small portion of the park’s north side, for the construction of Interstate 295. Deering Oaks also hosts the city’s monument to the Spanish–American War, a casting of The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson. In 2010, Deering Oaks hosted a rally calling for the repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy; performer Lady Gaga among others spoke and the rally drew approximately 2,000 people.
Centennial celebrations–Maine–Portland, photographs, 1920. Maine Memory Network, Maine Historical Society. Accessible online: https://www.mainememory.net/search/more?loc_headings=Centennial+celebrations–Maine–Portland&core_page=1&active_tab=core
Indians at the Centennial, exhibit. Maine Memory Network, Maine Historical Society. Accessible online: https://www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/184/page/443/display?use_mmn=1
Rogers, William Chapman. One hundredth anniversary of Maine’ s entrance into the union: official program of state celebration, Portland, June 26th to July 5th 1920, brochure, 1920. Digital Commons, Bangor Public Library. Accessible online: https://digicom.bpl.lib.me.us/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1068&context=books_pubs
Deering Oaks Park
Deering Oaks. The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Accessible online: https://tclf.org/landscapes/deering-oaks#:~:text=A%2055%2Dacre%20naturalistic%20park,with%20tidal%20gates%20in%201806.
Shettleworth, Earle. “Creating and preserving Portland’s urban landscape, 1885-1925.” in Creating Portland: History and Place in Northern New England. Durham, NH: UNH Press, 2005. (Available via local library)
Baldy, Cutcha Risling. “In Which We Establish That There Was a Genocide Against Native Americans…” Cutcha Risling Baldy Blog, 2015. Accessible online: https://www.cutcharislingbaldy.com/blog/in-which-we-establish-that-there-was-a-genocide-against-native-americans-yes-there-was-it-was-genocide-yes-or-this-is-why-i-teach-native-studies-part-3-million
Dear Georgina (documentary). Accessible online: https://upstanderproject.org/.
First Light (documentary). Accessible online: https://upstanderproject.org/.
Maine Wabanaki REACH. Accessible online: http://www.mainewabanakireach.org/blog.
Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission Archives. Accessible online: http://digitalcommons.bowdoin.edu/maine-wabanaki-trc/.
Mitchell, Sherri. Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, California. 2018. (Available via local library)
Our Stories: Healing Woods (documentary). MPBN, 1998. Accessible online: https://youtu.be/SKxDGN72ZQE
Saxine, Ian. Properties of Empire: Indians, Colonists, and Land Speculators on the New England Frontier. NY: NYU Press, 2019. (Available via local library)
Senier, Siobhan. Dawnland voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England. University of Nebraska Press, 2014. (Available via local library)
Wabanaki: A New Dawn (documentary). Accessible online: https://vimeo.com/6928369
“Wabanaki Today” [ArcGIS map/exhibit]. Abbe Museum. Accessible online: http://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=3abc544f907048038e0fefaa93da22b3
Heather Flor Cron is a queer Peruvian-American performer & transdisciplinary artist who works with intuitive movement, installation, printmaking, fiber, Instagram and food. Born in New Jersey, she relocated to Southern Maine in the early ‘90s. From a young age Flor frequently travelled to Peru to visit her maternal family. There, her interest in movement, food and textiles was ignited. Flor studied Sculpture at Maine College of Art and lives in so called “Portland, Maine” with her cat Piña Bausch. Through performance and making, Flor explores the relationship between her two cultures. She explores the power of vulnerability and believes that exposing pain can transcend trauma.
Photo credits: Justin Levesque