MACHIAS, Maine – The University of Maine at Machias will host an educational event in November in celebration of Native American Awareness Month. Members of Maine-Wabanaki REACH will deliver a presentation on Wabanaki history and the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Thursday, November 7, at 6 p.m. in the Science Building, room 102 on the UMM campus. Members of the commission will be present to answer questions and participate in the discussion.
The commission was officially mandated by the five Wabanaki Chiefs and the Maine Governor on June 29, 2012 and has until November 2015 to investigate and document what happened to Wabanaki people involved in the state child welfare system and make recommendations for best child welfare practice while promoting healing for those impacted.
This event will provide an historical overview and context for how Maine is taking the lead in this work of truth, healing, and change. The five-member commission is the first in the country to focus on native child welfare and the first of its kind in the world to be developed between tribal nations and a state. Commission co-chair Carol Wishcamper said “Since being seated in February, we have been learning about Wabanaki history and working closely with Wabanaki communities through REACH to create our research plan. We are excited to officially start our investigation in November when we visit the Passamaquoddy community of Sipayik.”
Expected to be one of the largest educational events about the Commission to be held in Washington County, all area high schools, private schools, and the faith community are encouraged to attend. Teachers will gain greater understanding of Wabanaki communities and the history that contributes to their present day challenges and resiliency. There will be educational resources for teachers and credit for contact hours for both teachers and social workers.
Most Maine residents are not aware of the U.S. Government’s policies of forced assimilation of native people. Since the 1700’s, the intention to “kill the Indian to save the man” was carried out by forcibly removing native children from their communities and stripping them of their culture, language, and spirituality. This mentality filtered into the child welfare system of our state and native children were removed at rates higher than most other states in the country. Maine-Wabanaki REACH is the group that established the truth and reconciliation process, advises the commission to ensure their research is directed by and respectful of Wabanaki people, and helps to prepare and support communities through the process.
“Although many of our people are anxious about giving a statement to the commission, we believe in the power of sharing our truths to help the healing process… we have suffered so much loss and have so much grief, this is going to be difficult but it is necessary,” says Caroline Maher, community organizer with REACH.