David A. Francis

Born: Jan. 23, 1917. David is 87 years old, still works full-time editing the Passamaquoddy Dictionary, and giving tours of the Wapohnahki Museum and Resource Center. Following the tradition of the "People of the Dawnland," he arrives at the Museum at 5 am every week day to work.

Education: 1935 graduate of Shead Memorial High School, Eastport, Maine. His traditional Passamaquoddy education was provided by his grandfather (Nmuhsums) and other elders. 


"In the 8th grade I went to the Eastport High School (1930). There, I could feel the prejudice from day one. When we had gone to grammar school, we didn't have much English. Then, we couldn't use the Passamaquoddy language in high school. I couldn't understand the teachers, and didn't know how to take notes, and so I got behind. They required a junior speaking contest, where you had to give a speech 3 minutes long. That's a lot of English words for three minutes. I had to go through and do it again because it was all in English. The schools, you could say, encouraged the use of English. Many of our parents didn't understand much English, but it was all we were allowed to use in high school."

Linguistics Training/Saving the Language from Extinction
"Bob Leavitt came down here to teach the writing system in about 1973, so I got interested. I was one of his three students who took a crash course, which was 3 months long. I learned how to write it and read it. That's how I got started. It's my primary language, first language. English is my foreign language. Someone asked me in an interview if I spoke a foreign language, I said 'sure, English.' They invaded and captured us. English-speaking people always think anything else is a foreign language. I also speak some French and Latin.
"We went to M.I.T. in Massachusetts. Some Passamaquoddy and Maliseet native speakers went to meet with linguists who were studying the language. The Maliseets have the same language and even have the same last names, and are probably related to me. At M.I.T. they developed the alphabet system, which the Maliseets are using too (N.B. Canada). We have a different dialect, but we understand each other. About twenty of us together went and repeated words and sentences, and that is how we got started. Then we started writing words from the 17 letters of our alphabet. We're writing books in Passamaquoddy now. It was never a written language before 25 years ago or so. We didn't need it before. We had wampum, wampum readers, legends and oral history. Now we don't have much of that left, so we need a written language to preserve our culture. Hopefully the kids will develop an interest, and be able to go back and read all about it, in Passamaquoddy.
"We also went to Harvard University and met with their linguists. It was quite an experience, attending two top colleges in a couple of weeks. Another linguist, LeSourd did the dictionary. He's still with us, and is an expert on accent marks and spelling. They need help with pronunciation though - he sounds Maliseet, because that's who he works with. Bob Leavitt does pretty well with Passamaquoddy.
"Some Passamaquoddies are fluent but we lost about 3 or 4 fluent elders this past year or so. About 30 years old and up here speak Passamaquoddy. My first five children speak it fluently. The younger ones understand us, but don't use it. Part of what happened, I guess, is the immigration of Indians back from big cities. Around the time of the land claims (1980's), people moved back here and brought a different culture with them . They brought the TV's with them, and now it's the computers. We were afraid that the language would die with the elders.
"Since we started the dictionary there is a lot of interest in the language, and it is picking up. Some Passamaquoddies are going to college, and when they have to choose a topic to study they're picking their own tribe, which is good. They come back here to do research with me at the Museum. Others also come to do research" (see Dissertations below). (From upcoming biographical book, very tentatively titled "Skicin: The Oral History of Passamaquoddy Elder David Francis." He has yet to select a title).

WWII Veteran. Served in the Signal Corp,
yet couldn't vote for the "great white father" until 1954.
(1940 photo, from left to right: Raymond Socoby, David Francis,
Ralph Dana, Harold Sockbasin)




Ex-tribal Governor, 1950-1952. (Following traditional Native modesty, I'd been interviewing Mr. Francis for over a year before he revealed this information to me). Also an ex-tribal council member, and Director of CETA program.

(In Plains-style headdress)

David and his wife Marion have 10 children,
and many, many grandchildren.

(Back row, from left to right: Noel, David, Paul, Martin, David, Marion, Merlin, Michael. Front row: Susan, Tina, Theresa, Claire).

David and Marion Francis' 50th wedding anniversary.

Currently, David Francis is the Language Coordinator of the Wapohnahki Museum and Resource Center Language restoration program (N.S.F. funded) at Pleasant Point/ Sipayik (zih-'by-ig). He is also the voice of the Pequot Museum, has conducted many community presentations, newspaper interviews, and has taught a Passamaquoddy language course at the University of Maine (Bob Leavitt was the teacher of record, because Mr. Francis lacked the proper academic credentials). He has participated in many academic conferences and tribal programs throughout Indian Country. Please contact Bob Leavitt for a listing.



Chute, Robert. 2002. Treize Lunes/Thirteen Moons/Sanku Kisuhsok.

David Francis,Passamaquody translation, edited by Bob Leavitt. Cider Press, Poland: Maine.

Francis, David A. and Ng, Eve. 1998. Houses and Food in Earlier Times. In Eve Ng's dissertation.

Francis, David A. and Leavitt, Robert M. 1994. "The Indian Devil, Mischief- Maker." In Coming to Light, edited by Brian Swann. Vintage Books, New York: N.Y.

LeSourd, Philip. edited by Robert Leavitt and David Francis.1984/1986. Kolusuwakonol: Passamaquoddy-Maliseet and English Dictionary. Title IV-A Program. Pleasant Point/Perry: Maine. Norton Publishers: Conn.

Leavitt, Robert M., and Francis, David A., editors. 1897/1990. Wapapi Akonutomakonol/The Wampum Records: Wabanaki Traditional Laws, Micmac-Maliseet Institute, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton.

Nicholas, Joseph A., Francis, David A. and Nicholas, Alberta. 1988. Passamaquoddy/Maliseet Reference Book. Produced by the
Passamaquoddy/Maliseet Bilingual Program, under TitleVII. Norton Publishers: Conn.

Nicholas, Joseph A. and Francis, David A., Francis, Alberta. 1988. Maine Indians: "The People of the Early Dawn." Title VII Bilingual Program.

Nicholas, Joseph A. and Francis, David A. 1988. Nitawi
Skicinuwatu/I Know How to Speak Indian. Title VII Bilingual Program.

Nicholas, Joseph A. and Francis, David A. 1986. Passamaquoddy/Maliseet Vowel Sounds. Title VII Bilingual Program. 

Nicholas, Joseph A. and Francis, David A. Undated. Skicin Eli Piluwikit/Indian Characteristics Books 1, 2, 3. Produced by Title VII Bilingual program.

Nicholas, Joseph A. and Francis, David A. 1984. AmsqahseweyakSkicinuwok/First Indians. Produced by the Produced by the Title VII Bilingual Program PRIDE Program.

Nicholas, Joseph A. and Francis, David A. 1984. Papahtomuwakon/ Religion. Produced by the Title VII Bilingual Program and PRIDE Program.
Soctomah, Donald. 2003. Hard Times at Passamaquoddy: 1921-1950 Tribal Life and Times in Main and New Brunswick. David Francis, Historical and Cultural source.

Dissertation assistance:

Morrison, Anne. 1997. "Music that Moves Between Worlds: Passamaquoddy ceremonial songs in the cultural history of the Northeast". Harvard University, Adviser Kay Kaufman Shelemay.

Ng, Eve Chuen. 2003. "Demonstrative words in the Algonquian language Passamaquoddy: A descriptive and grammaticalization analysis." State University of New York at Buffalo, adviser Matthew S. Dryer. Eve did some life history with me about how they processed porpoise meat.


Maliyan, 2000. Interactive CD-ROM. Written by Mary Ellen
Socobasin/Stevens, Passamaquoddy translation by David Francis Sr.

Song of the Drum: The Petroglyphs of Maine, 2004. Written by Ray Gerber.
"Song of the Drum" recited in Passamaquoddy by David A. Francis, Sr.
Voice of the Pequot Museum. David A. Francis recorded for use in
museum exhibits.

Downeast Heritage Center, 2004. Three traditional Passamquoddy stories as
told by David A. Francis, Sr.
Nicholas, Joseph A. and Francis, David A. Undated. Skicin Eli
Piluwikit/Indian Characteristics Books 1, 2, 3. Produced by Title VII Bilingual program, recorded and sol by Audio-Forum, Jeffrey Norton Publishers Tape Library.

Annotated Bibliography:
Passamaquoddy/Maliseet Vowel Sounds. 1986. Produced by Title VII Bilingual Program, David A. Francis, Sr. Language Coordinator. A brief instructional guide and tape.

Passamaquoddy/Maliseet Reference Book, Joseph A. Nicholas, David A. Francis, Alberta Nicholas, 1988. Passamaquoddy/Maliseet Bilingual Program under Title VII. Norton Publishers: Conn. Contains vocaculary words, illustrations, recipes, listing of past tribal Chiefs, history, etc.

Wapapi Akkonutomakonol/The Wampum Records: Wabanaki Traditional Laws. 1990. Micmac-Maliseet Institute, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton: Canada.
"Lewis Mitchell wrote a wampum book, and he didn't go to school. He was our representative to the Maine State Legislature and a scholar and tribal historian. John Dyneley Prince published Mitchell's transcription of the Laks legend also (see Passamaquoddy Texts, 1921). Both Sopiel Selmore and John Francis were wampum readers. This book describes our traditional political arrangements. There was a meeting the Great Council Fire in Canawagy, N.Y. Seven tribes were there: the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Iroquois, Ottawa/Ado. We were trying to stop the fighting amongst us. They had to paddle the canoes to get there to meet with the Iroquois. Traditionally we were enemies, now we work together. All had wampum belts; one for visiting, marriage, war, anything they do." The Wampum Records contain, in both Passamaquoddy and English:

  • The Wampum Records/Wapapi Akonutomakonol
  • What they do When a Chief Dies/Ellukhotimok Tan Etuci Mehcinet Sakom
  • What they do When a Chief is Made/Ellukhotimok Tan Etuci Oliyut Sakom
  • The Marriage Custom of Olden Times/Nipuwi Olotahkewakon 'Kansuhsuwey
  • The Marriage Custom as it has been Put Together in Recent Times/Nipuwi Olotahkewakon Yut Piliw Kisi Mawehtasik

Also included is an annotated bibliography of Wampum studies.
"We have no wampum belts here at the museum." Only the Cape Breton Mi'kmaq had their wampum belts when anthropologist Speck visited (1915:500; 1919:37 in The Wampum Records, 1990:26). (This is contradicted by information on the tri-centennial celebration of Plymouth, Mass. which was attended by Passamaquoddies, and Wampum was worn there in 1921). "We want the Wampum and silver back."

"The Indian Devil, Mischief-Maker," in Coming to Light. 1994. Edited by Brian Swan. "Bob Leavitt helped get Laks into the book. Lewis Mitchell, we owe him a lot too. He wrote down many of our stories. Our version is based on Mitchell's "W'skidcinwi Wahant Malikapiu" ("Skicinuwi Wahant Malikapiyiw"). With Bob Leavitt, we tried to not only reproduce the legend, but also to return it to a more original Passamaquoddy form. In the introduction to the story, we talk about preserving the legend, which had been Anglicized in Prince's edition, and in Leland's version (Algonquin Legends of New England, 1884) who gave non-Native interpretations. To preserve it, we had to do a lot of linguistics."

We did a dictionary, Kolusuwakonol: Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Dictionary, by Phillip LeSourd, edited by Robert Leavitt and David Francis. "MIT helped to develop the alphabet, which has 17 letter and voice sounds, five vowels and twelve consonants. Each letter has one sound. Seven of the letters sound changes in certain situations. P/b, c/j, k/g, s/z."

Most recently, we did the Passamaquoddy translation of Thirteen Moons, by Robert Chute, 2002. Cider Press, Poland: Maine. "I did the translation, and Bob Leavitt edited. The Passamaquoddy title is 'Sanku Kisuhsok.' This is the story of Father Sebastian Rale and the massacre at Norridgewock, in Passamaquoddy, English and French. We have been doing readings in all three languages for the public."