State, Wabanaki tribes to sign mandate, look into history of harmful child welfare practices

Posted June 28, 2012, at 6:57 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage will meet with tribal representatives Friday morning to sign documents that will spark a multi-year investigation into more than a century of child welfare and assimilation policies that removed children from their families and tribes.

Leaders with the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkmikuk, Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik, Penobscot Indian Nation and state of Maine will sign the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Mandate and selection panel documents at 10 a.m. Friday in the Hall of Flags at the State House.

In 1999 the Wabanaki tribal nations joined with state child welfare officials to form the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the goal of improving Maine’s compliance with 1978’s federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which set higher standards of protection for the rights of native children, their families and their tribal communities.

Beginning in the late 1800s, the United States government established boarding schools for Native American children, who were removed from their families in an attempt to assimilate them into American culture, according to Penobscot Indian Nation Tribal Chief Kirk Francis.

In the late 1950s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America created the Indian Adoption Project, which removed Native American children from their families and tribes to be adopted by non-native families. That program sometimes placed children with abusive or neglectful guardians, according to Francis.

“There was a lot of historical trauma around those issues, a lot of lost family members,” Francis said Thursday evening. The Penobscot chief said the commission has several members and participants who were separated from their families and tribes through the program.

The aim of the mandate is to begin a multi-year process that will explore the Wabanaki experience with child welfare practices, promote healing for those who struggled with the process and outline changes that will keep children within their respective tribes.

Francis said Maine has become a national leader in child welfare reform among tribes.

He said the signing of these documents will make official the partnership between the state and tribes and serve as the next step toward “ensur[ing] that no Indian child is ever taken from his culture or her culture … and that the tribe plays a major role in the upbringing of that child.”

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