SIPAYIK, Maine – Dr. Deanna Mae Francis, a beloved Passamaquoddy clan mother, spiritual leader, culture keeper, and a woman blessed with a “good heart,” died at her home on Friday, Oct. 29, after waging a battle with lung cancer. She was 62.
“She passed very peacefully around a small group of close sisters that she had collected. We were all her relatives; she entwined us as sisters,” said Lorene Homan, Francis’ primary caregiver.
“I’ve known her my whole life. I was like her baby sister. She was just a remarkable woman. She had unconditional love for people. She had a beautiful home burial; she was prepared at her home by people who loved her and took care of her and she was buried at the tribal cemetery,” Homan said.
Francis was the daughter of the late Frederick J. Francis Sr. and Ada Bailey Francis. She was born at Sipayik on Feb. 24, 1948, and was renowned for her skills in both traditional and Western medicine.
Francis was the first member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe to earn a medical degree. After devoting most of her life to traditional medicine, she graduated in 1998 from the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, and afterward practiced a unique combination of the two traditions.
“She knew that her hands were healing hands. She wanted an alternative medicine for people instead of them going to doctors and getting pumped up with a lot of pills. She just fell in love with that kind of medicine,” Homan said.
Francis traveled hundreds of miles to people and families who needed her, “no questions asked,” Homan said.
“She’d just say, ‘I’m on my way.’ She loved to do her traditional medicine, no matter who called her. She would go out and fix the medicines and make sure the people had whatever they needed to be well again. She’s irreplaceable. I don’t think there will be anyone who can do what she did for our community and for other communities everywhere.”
Francis was a respected member of the Onadoga Okwea Society. Jeanne Shenandoah, a citizen of the Onondaga Nation in central New York, was another of Francis’ lifelong friends and a member of the large Shenandoah family that formally adopted Francis into the society.
“Deanna spent a lot of time in our community with us, attending ceremonies and she became part of my family. She just fit right in with us and became a sister and an aunt to many of the young people in our family. Our mother took her into our family and gave her a traditional name,” Shenandoah said.
Francis was “a constant teacher” wherever she went, “and she went everywhere,” Shenandoah said.
“She was truly a gift to this world because of her spirit and the knowledge that she carried with her. She loved so many people; she was a very caring person and shared so much of herself. She truly was a person of a good heart.”
Francis was a fierce defender of her culture, language and Passamaquoddy values.
“As a fluent speaker of Passamaquoddy, her traditional knowledge was an ocean,” friends wrote in her obituary.
“Deanna was concerned about Sipayik’s language loss and worked daily to immerse those around her in its beauty and blessed sounds. She raised and helped grow many Native children who needed love and basic care. Though her time with us was all too brief, her impact is immeasurable. We now live in a different place without Deanna in this world, because loss is greatest whenever a people lose one of its clan mothers,” the friends wrote.
Vera Francis described her first cousin as a Kcicihtuwinuwiw – a wise, intellectual person.
“I loved, respected her deep intelligence and mastery of language. She was as passionate as her knowledge was immense. Dr. Dee’s traditional practice reflected to all the world Passamaquoddy lifeways – her gift. Courageous and spirited warrior woman,” Vera Francis said.
Cyril Francis, another cousin, said what she will miss most about Deanna Francis is “her laughter. She had the type of laugh that makes you laugh inside, the kind of laughter that is contagious, so you have to laugh too. She was a powerful and strong woman. She has such an interest in our people and she tried the best she could to remain traditional and to live off the land.”
But she was also pragmatic in combining the traditions of indigenous and Western knowledge, Cyril Francis said.
“She knew that there was nothing anyone could do to change the world the way it is today so she embraced both.”
Francis was predeceased by her brothers, Frederick, Clyde Guysis and James. She is survived by her sister, Beverly Francis of Sipayik; nephews and nieces, Frederick J. Francis III and Keaira Komiwon Francis of Sipayik, Amy Marie Francis of Sipayik, Ann Sopiel and Cody Sopiel of Indian Township, Juanita Money Day of Indian Township, Andre Paul and Justice Bassett of Sipayik, Joshua Francis and his companion, Trisha Condelmo, of Sipayik, Alliya Francis and Joel Francis of Sipayik.
A funeral service was held Nov. 1 at St. Anne’s Church, Sipayik. Donations in her honor may be made to the Passamaquoddy Peaceful Relations Program, which serves tribal victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. For more information contact the tribal administration office at (207) 853-2600.