MACHIAS – Donald Soctomah, the historian of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and a former state legislator, will be the University of Maine at Machias’ commencement speaker on Saturday, May 13.
Soctomah, who lives in Indian Township, also will be awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by the university.
The university announced its selection of Soctomah last week to its Board of Visitors.
“The university considers it a great honor to have Donald Soctomah as its commencement speaker,” said Cynthia Huggins, UMM’s president.
“He has numerous connections with UMM, its faculty and students. His support has been essential for some of the work done by our history, English and interdisciplinary fine arts programs.”
The selection of Soctomah is an opportunity for UMM to publicly recognize Soctomah for his work preserving the history of the Passamaquoddy people and ensuring that the tribe’s language and culture are preserved for its younger generations.
Last May at the commencement for Washington County Community College in Calais, Soctomah had been awarded an honorary associate degree alongside another tribal elder, Joseph Nicholas of Pleasant Point.
Soctomah will be the third Maine resident to speak at UMM’s commencement in three years. Keynote speaker last year was Sanford Phippen of Hancock, a longtime writer on Down East topics. In 2004 the speaker was Roxanne Quimby, a businesswoman and environmentalist from Winter Harbor.
Soctomah could not be reached Thursday for comment on the UMM honor.
Soctomah currently works as the Passamaquoddy tribe’s historic preservation officer, a position he has held since 2003.
He served as the tribe’s representative to the Maine Legislature between 1999 and 2002, taking a position on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.
During his time in Augusta, he arranged to have Native American portraits hung in the State House, and led efforts to have the word “squaw” removed from Maine place names. He campaigned for increased protection for archaeological sites, and helped broker an agreement with a paper company that returned sacred burial ground to the tribe.
He has written three books on Passamaquoddy history and is working on a fourth, a history of the Passamaquoddy from 1850 to 1890.
As an oral historian, Soctomah pioneered work that resulted in the first compilation of Passamaquoddy traditional tribal music on compact disc. He has worked with filmmakers from the Discovery Channel, Maine Public Broadcasting Network, and the Animal Planet Network.
In 2004, Soctomah produced an interactive learning compact disc for the tribe’s school titled “Landscapes, Legends and Language of the Passamaquoddy People.” He had interviewed many Passamaquoddy elders to map the historic range and movements of the tribe and highlight places of significance in tribal history.
Soctomah is the great-grandson of Sopiel Selmore, who was the tribe’s Oral History Keeper during the early 20th century.