Holy Road: Passamaquoddy elder, culture keeper, veteran dies

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PLEASANT POINT, Maine - Joseph ''Cozy'' Nicholas, a Passamaquoddy tribal elder and former state representative who was known for his legendary sense of humor, has died after a long illness.

Born July 12, 1926, in Pleasant Point, Nicholas was 83 when he passed away at Calais Hospital July 2.

The son of the late James Cheverie and Josephine Nicholas, Nicholas was born and raised at the Passamaquoddy reservation in Pleasant Point. He attended Shead Memorial High School, but left to join the U.S. Navy in 1942, serving aboard the USS Curtis in actions at Guam, Saipan and Okinawa. His ship survived a kamikaze attack.

After the war, he returned to Pleasant Point and graduated from high school.

He received a doctor of humane letters from the University of Maine at Machias, an honorary degree in law from St. Joseph's College and an honorary associate degree in liberal studies from Washington County Community College in 2006.

Nicholas owned and operated his own barbershop in Eastport until his retirement. He was active in veterans' organizations.

He served on the tribal council at Pleasant Point for eight years, and was the tribe's legislative representative in the 1950s, 1960s and 1980s.

A former curator at the Wabanaki Museum, he was instrumental in reviving the annual ''Indian Days'' celebration at Pleasant Point. He was an active member of St. Ann R.C. Church and served as a eucharistic minister for more than 15 years.

Tribal members, state officials and a local radio station director paid tribute to Nicholas in the local press and on Web sites.

Wayne Newell, a tribal member and University of Maine trustee called Nicholas ''an icon of cultural renewal and a living example of a person who did things instead of said things,'' in a report in the Bangor Daily News.

''He believed that you need to carry pride in who you are wherever you go. He was committed to that not just in cultural events, but in his own life.''

Nicholas was widely known and respected for his passionate commitment to preserving tribal culture.

''A number of years ago, he decided our image in the media and movies wasn't right and he fought to change that. He really tried to renew customs of the community,'' Newell said.

Republican Sen. Kevin Raye praised Nicholas in a posting on the Web site of WQDY-WALZ radio for his ''great and genuine warmth, a legendary sense of humor and quick wit and a keen intellect. His passion for instilling pride in the heritage and culture of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and preserving its native language will continue to touch lives for generations to come.''

In December 2007, Raye introduced a Legislative Sentiment in honor of Nicholas that read in part: ''We, the House and Senate of the State of Maine, recognize Joseph Nicholas, of Sipayik [Pleasant Point], one of the most respected and celebrated elders of the Passamaquoddy Tribe. Mr. Nicholas is loved and revered throughout Washington County and beyond for his kind and gentle nature and for a renowned sense of humor that is able to brighten even the darkest of days.''

Nicholas was predeceased by a sister, Eva Nicholas, and four brothers, Calvin, Philip, Horace and Roy. Surviving are his five children, Joseph S. Nicholas, Edwin Dana and his wife, Linda, Diane Apt and Alberta Nicholas, all of Pleasant Point; and Freda Moore of East Hartford, Conn.; his special companion, Rose Newell; many grandchildren, great-grandsons and great-grand-children; several nieces and nephews; and three lifelong friends, David Francis and the Rev. Mike McGarrigle and Roy Neptune Sr., who he called his brother.