Quee Brown (left) and John Dennis dance during Mawiomi on Saturday. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine — Hundreds of people from Maine, Canada and New England gathered in Caribou over the past weekend to honor Mi’kmaq traditions.

The Mi’kmaq Nation hosted its annual Mawiomi, which means “gathering,” at Spruce Haven to celebrate the culture that has tied Mi’kmaq people together for generations.

The gathering originally was held when people returned to their tribal home from harvesting crops, but today has taken on a larger meaning. What matters most to many families is passing down the Mawiomi heritage to younger generations.

It is a weekend filled with traditional ceremonies, dancing, singing and drumming. This year marked the 27th year the band invited family, friends and community members to join the celebration.

Junior Peter-Paul of Prince Edward Island, Canada (left), Mi’kmaq Nation Vice Chief Richard Siliboy, Mi’kmaq Chief Edward Peter-Paul and Eileen Brooks of Indian Brook, Nova Scotia (right) take part in the grand entry ceremony at the Mi’kmaq’s Mawiomi on Saturday. (Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican)

Though Mawiomi is more well known in the larger Aroostook community today, that was not always the case, Mi’kmaq Chief Edward Peter-Paul said.

“The intent was always to gather here, share our culture and practice our traditions,” Peter-Paul said, about the early years of Mawiomi. “We’re celebrating the change of the seasons from summer to fall.”

In its earliest days, Mawiomi was a time for Mi’kmaq and Maliseet people from Maine and Canada to celebrate after returning from blueberry raking in southern Maine. Once the blueberry harvest ended in mid-August, families would return home or stay in Aroostook to work for potato farmers in autumn.

Since crop production and harvesting have become more mechanized, it is less common for tribal members to take part in that summer work. But the Mawiomi is an important way to honor the far-reaching Mi’kmaq culture.

This year’s event organizer, Nick Paul, has been immersed in tribal culture since childhood. He learned to drum and sing in the traditional Mi’kmaq, or Mi’gmaw, language starting at age 9 alongside tribal elders.

Today, his son Hiawatha Paul, 17, drums with him during every Mawiomi.

“[When he was a baby], I would put him in his car seat next to me while I was drumming,” Nick Paul said.

Paul’s wife, Waupi, and daughters Sipsis, 18, and Tihtiyas, 7, have also made it a tradition to attend Mawiomi in handmade regalia and take part in the dancing.

Sipsis Paul, 18, dances during the Mi’kmaq Nation’s Mawiomi on Saturday. (Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican)

For Sipsis, Mawiomi is more than just a tribal event. It is a way to honor the culture that her parents have instilled in her from an early age.

“Our mother started teaching us to dance as soon as we could walk,” she said. “It energizes me to be part of the culture, because not every family gets that chance.”

Sipsis now wants her 2-month-old daughter, Maui, to be part of her family’s traditions.

“It’s about making sure she listens to the music and drumming and teaching her the language,” Sipsis said.