Native American Audio Collections

Greeting Song by Watie Akins
Conversation and songs
A Chant Coming Down the River in Canoes


Chief Needahbeh (Roland Nelson), 1926
Chief Needahbeh (Roland Nelson), 1926

It is said that when the Creator was giving a place for all the spirits to dwell, there came a sound, a loud BOOM, from off in the distance. As Creator listened, the sound kept coming closer and closer until finally, it was right in front of Creator. ‘Who are you?’ asked Creator. ‘I am the spirit of the drum’ was the reply.‘I have come here to ask you to allow me to take part in this wonderful thing.’ ‘How will you take part?’ Creator questioned. ‘I would like to accompany the singing of the people. When they sing from their hearts, I will sing as though I was the heartbeat of Mother Earth. In that way, all creation will sing in harmony’ (Akins, v).

Thus begins For the Grandchildren Music Book, written by the distinguished Penobscot elder Watie Akins. Mr. Akins has spent years doing archival research to locate old recordings of songs from the Wabanaki people, also recording two CDs: For the Grandchildren and Greeting My Relations. These works translate traditional songs, some of which were recorded by Frank Speck, as well as the linguists Eugene Gordon and Frank Siebert, and are part of the APS’s Endangered Native American Languages Digtial Archive. Included in the recordings above are a lullaby sung by Chief Needahbeh as recorded by Frank Speck on phonograph around 1935.

The Wabanaki Confederacy is made up of the Elnu, Koasek Traditional, Missisiquoi, and Nulhegan Bands of the Western Abenaki in New Hampshire and Vermont; the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Tribes of Maine; the Abenaki Bands at Wolinak and Odanak in Quebec; the six Maliseet Reserves at Oromoctu, Kingsclear, Fredericton, Meductic, Tobique and Edmonton in New Brunswick, Canada; and the Mi'kmaq First Nations of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec.

Watie Akins giving a Greeting Song, 2010
Watie Akins giving a Greeting Song, 2010

Watie Akins is currently working with the APS on a new Digital Knowledge Sharing Initiative that provides digital copies of material in the library’s collection to Native American and First Nations to support language preservation and cultural revitalization. The photograph to the right shows Mr. Akins, giving a Greeting Song (which can be listened to above), and Tim Powell, the Director of Native American Projects at the APS, at the “Building Bridges between Archives and Indian Communities” Conference in Philadelphia in the spring of 2010.

Collections with Penobscot audio recordings:

Frank Speck, collector. Recordings of Cherokee, Creek, Naskapi, Penobscot, Sioux, Santee, Tintelo, and Winnebago, 1935-1937.

Eugene Gordon, collector. Penobscot Indian language study, 1956.

Frank Siebert papers, 1932-1998.