Roads Taken

Drum Circle: Chris Newell on giving voice to indigenous culture

Episode Summary

After an elective course in world music led him to follow the drum beat to performing, Chris Newell ended up leaving college early to tour. The music ended up unlocking more than just new venues, though, and set him up to be a caretaker of his people’s heritage and story. Find out from Chris how sometimes cutting one journey short can uncover the road to both your past and your future.

Episode Notes

Having grown up with traditional Passamaquoddy traditional music in his home community of Motahkmikuhk in Maine, guest Chris Newell, Dartmouth '96, got into pow wow singing in college and helped found an intertribal drum group on campus. But it was an elective in world music that really awakened the performing spirit from this once-engineering major. Playing at more pow wows and circles, he made connections around the drum and ultimately was asked to join the professional touring group Mystic River and ultimately unenrolled from the College.

His years getting to know a variety of native communities and their traditions led him to the public education world, specifically in the museum arena. An expert not only in the cultures and stories of his own community and that of his children, he is a sought-after expert in navigating public history and incorporating the voices of communities in projects.

In this episode, find out from Chris how sometimes cutting one journey short can uncover the road to both your past and your future…on ROADS TAKEN…with Leslie Jennings Rowley.

Bonus from Chris: In June 2021, Yo Yo Ma joined Chris in a tube to pay tribute to the Wabanaki Nations in this unannounced concert at Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park


About This Episode's Guest

Chris Newell is Executive Director and Senior Partner to Wabanaki Nations at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine, where he works to center the voices of the Wabanaki people in telling their stories and sharing their traditions. He also co-founded the Akomawt Educational Initiative in response to observations of the public school system and the lack of representation of Native history and social studies and served for six years as the Education Supervisor for the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center.  Though a long-time member of the Mystic River singers, an internationally acclaimed and award-winning intertribal pow wow drum group based in Connecticut, he was drawn to pow wow singing as an undergraduate and helped found the intertribal Occom Pond Singers. As mentioned in this ROADS TAKEN interview, along with his work in education, Chris has also appeared in feature films and was the Senior Advisor on the Emmy winning documentary Dawnland , chronicling the historic first-ever government-sanctioned Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the State of Maine. 


And did you know…? According to the Alumni Association constitution, membership includes “every person who has ever matriculated as a full-time student in pursuit of a Dartmouth degree” at the undergraduate College, even if that individual never graduates from the institution. Dartmouth still claims the beloved Fred Rogers as an alum, and he attended the College for only his freshman year. In our book, our beloved Chris is still a member of the great class of 1996.




Executive Producer/Host: Leslie Jennings Rowley

Music: Brian Burrows


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