HOULTON, Maine — Families in the Houlton Band of Maliseets have begun to move into new homes in a six-unit apartment complex on Clover Circle in Houlton that was opened officially in a ceremony Feb. 9.
Tribal Chief Brenda Commander cut the ribbon held by Undersecretary Dallas Tonsager of U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development in festivities attended by USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel, tribal members including tenants of the new building and representatives of Maine’s U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Rep. Mike Michaud.
“Safe, affordable housing is a priority for tribal leadership,” said Commander, praising the partnership with the federal agency that helped “make a dream into reality.”
Tribe member Dana Boyce blessed the occasion and the building with smudges of burning sweet grass, cedar, tobacco and sage that drifted through the air as Aaron Greenlaw, housing director for the Houlton Band, welcomed the guests and introduced the speakers.
Metaksonekiyak I is the first multifamily housing facility funded by USDA Rural Development on Maliseet land. Begun in November 2010, the facility was made possible by a $1 million federal rural rental housing loan combined with $142,264 from the tribe.
Tonsager said the Houlton project is one piece of $300 million the USDA Rural Development has brought to Maine.
“This property will help make the community complete,” he said, articulating the long-term commitment of the Obama administration to building housing in rural areas.
A native of a rural community of 250 in South Dakota, Tonsager said as he toured one of the two-bedroom units that he felt comfortable in the landscape of northern Maine. In a time of significant economic losses, he said he has observed “fewer ups and downs” in the nation’s rural areas where “people tend to pay their bills.”
Metaksonekiyak, the name of the new apartment building, means “people of the river,” in this case the Meduxnekeag, a tributary of the St. John River, said Boyce who performed the smudging ritual. “Most of our people lived along the St. John and migrated up the Meduxnekeag,” she said.
At the time of the November 2010 groundbreaking for Metaksonekiyak I, 40 Maliseet families remained on a waiting list for housing, even after completion that same month of an eight-unit apartment complex funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“At a time when the urgency for housing is growing, I applaud the cooperation of all who worked with such dedication to bring this welcome undertaking to fruition,” Sen. Olympia Snowe said of the newest complex in a statement read by her representative Sharon Campbell.
Sen. Susan Collins, in a letter read by staff member Phil Bossie, said “through the combined hard work and efforts of USDA Rural Development and the Houlton Band of Maliseets the need for affordable housing for tribal members is being addressed.”
In a statement read by staff member Barbara Hayslett, Rep. Michaud commended the partnership as an example for others who are looking to improve their community. “Metaksonekiyak I is a model for all,” he said.