October 10 is indigenous people’s day here in Maine, and if you’re reading this it’s probably a few days past the date. Many of us are in the habit of taking a broad historical perspective of things when it comes to the state or the country as a whole, but we don’t do so well when it comes to our own backyard.

In Camden, our view of history is so short that we celebrate and protect buildings and landscapes that are not even 100 years old while we take ancient streams and bury them underground in pipes without a second thought. Usually, our ancestors did these things for a practical purpose, but we are the ones who endow these choices with sacred qualities worthy of preserving forever.

Indigenous Peoples Day asks us to stretch our minds and take a longer view of history. Whether or not you agree with changing the name of the holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, pretty much everyone will concede that the story of native people matters too. But when it comes to Camden specifically, all we have are spotty references.

There was mention of wigwams out on Eaton’s Point and the wife of James Richards occasionally being alarmed by the natives who would visit their home. The following is from a column by Nathan C. Fletcher published in the Rockland Opinion in 1883. His son built the building known as the Fletcher Block about 10 years later (now home to Boynton McKay):

“The simple children of nature, who roamed the Everglades of the Megunticook valley, and rested upon the crests of these mountains upon which I am now gazing, are entitled to a niche in history as well as those who have succeeded them in their possessions, and whose splendid mansions and picturesque cottages rest upon the same soil where the camps of the copper-colored race were erected and from which gracefully curled upward the smoke from their domestic firesides…. I have been led to speak of those who preceded us in peopling these regions, when Camden was a solitude, as was the group of islands before me; which gracefully rest upon the peaceful waters of ‘Penobscot bay,’ as an act of simple justice and to leave on record my utter detestation of the villainous conduct of those freebooters now, grandiloquently called ‘English Discoverers.’”

We have not made much progress since Fletcher’s time. If anything, our perspective of the history of the place has only grown smaller. Most of the buildings we memorialize today hadn’t even been built when Fletcher wrote his columns and we have still made almost no attempt at documenting the story of indigenous people here in Camden.

Dailey Brook where it runs over its historic bedrock channel.

This means that remembering and honoring the true Camden natives often requires looking to nature and invoking a sort of ecological imagination. MDOT is set to begin work on Route 1 in the coming weeks, propping up the culvert and collapsing sidewalk that crosses over Dailey Brook, a stream that descends from the side of Mount Battie down through the Mountain Arrow and Rock Brook Drive subdivisions before crossing under High Street and Atlantic Avenue.

Dailey Brook where Atlantic Avenue crosses through it.

Its cultural, historical and ecological significance predates any of the buildings and bridges built by Europeans.

This area is one of the few known sites where Native American artifacts have been found — two arrowheads discovered by a homeowner and confirmed and documented by local archaeologist, Harbour Mitchell — but it receives no special mention as part of the High Street Historic District.

Historically, the stream would have attracted native people for some of the same reasons it attracted the early settlers — as an active and well documented spawning site for sea run rainbow smelt.

Today, the stream we know as Dailey Brook is blocked by multiple culverts and causeway type roads that were built on top of it before we knew better. The smelt are gone and so are the indigenous people, each of them casualties of European progress intent on bending the land and the water to serve our purposes.

The little stream does still support one of the only populations of native brook trout, a fish whose cultural importance has endured through time immemorial, but unfortunately MDOT has no record of their presence, and the town of Camden has afforded the stream none of the same protections we reserve for historic buildings.

A wild brook trout in Dailey Brook.

If you look carefully at the stream beds in many places, you will see the story of the earth in our little corner of the world over thousands of years carved into the bedrock, the carving and dragging of the nearly mile-thick glacier that once covered the land. Look first for the jagged marks and deep crevices that it left in its path and then for the contrast of the smooth surface of the stream beds where 15,000 years of water running over rock has rounded out the edges.

Dailey Brook where it has been diverted and backed up due to the High Street crossing.

In other places you will notice that the stream has been diverted to a new channel which lacks the maturity of its original course. In these cases, you know there is an ancient stream bed submerged or buried somewhere else, a place where moose and mountain lions and native people for thousands of years congregated to quench their thirst and feast on the ancestors of the trout we still enjoy today.

A map of Camden before the harbor was dredged and before Atlantic Avenue was built. Note the intertidal zone extending much further inland and the different shape of the harbor.

We easily recognize that the story of Columbus discovering America — at least the way we were teaching it all those years — is a little preposterous considering all the people who were living here before the discovery, but what do we know about those people in Camden? We are also coming to terms with the fact that the discovery may not have been such a positive thing for the people, the land, or the water of the continent we colonized, but what about our little town?

Indigenous Peoples Day may have passed, but November is National Native American Heritage Month, and I plan to push myself to expand my perspective and knowledge base regarding pre-colonial history here in Camden. I’d love it if people would write me at alisonmckellar@gmail.com and share some resources or local knowledge that may be relevant.

Alison McKellar is a Camden resident and Vice-Chair of the Select Board. Her views are her own and do not reflect those of the Select Board or the editorial position of The Camden Herald. We welcome letters and guest columns reflecting other viewpoints via editor@villagesoup.com.