Blog: Voices of Decolonization

Confronting Place-Ignorance in Education

by Fiona Hopper, Social Studies Teacher Leader and Wabanaki Studies Coordinator, Portland Public Schools

In January, Starr Kelly, Curator of Education at the Abbe Museum, led a workshop for the social studies vertical team (a group comprised of Portland teachers, parents, and students) and partner organizations titled Can We Decolonize Educational Spaces?: A Critical Look at Settler Colonialism and Empire Building. Starr asked pointed questions about power in order to reframe dominant understandings of colonization, empire building, and practices of teaching history. By using inquiry to center the dignity of Native peoples she unseated the presumed superiority of empire so common in dominant culture. 

Afterward, I kept thinking about Thoreau’s The Maine Woods, which I read five or so years ago after James Francis, Director of the Office of Cultural and Historic Preservation at the Penobscot Nation, mentioned his extensive study of that text and its connection with his community. 

Read more

Maine's Original Sin

During his tenure as the Executive Director for the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission, John Dieffenbacher-Krall worked closely with Maine Wabanaki REACH engaging tribal and state partners, assisting with writing the mandate and developing the Commission selection process. He has worked tirelessly toward the repudiation of the Doctrine of Chrisitan Discovery and we are pleased to offer the text of his talk at the Wilson Center in Orono on March 4, 2020, as our blog this month. The text has been edited slightly for readability.

Read more

Promoting Health and Wellness in Wabanaki Communities

Once again, the REACH dragonfly signifies how our organization is expanding in new and exciting ways. Dragonflies represent swiftness and activity; change and transformation; joy and happiness; adaptability; and an invitation to dive deeper into feeling and understanding.

We are happy that Brian Altvater has joined our team as the Wabanaki Wellness Coordinator, a position that was only ever held by Maria Girouard, who has been serving as our Executive Director for the past year.

Read more

REACH Transitions – Maine Communities

  The REACH dragonfly has special meaning to our team and our work. Dragonflies
  represent swiftness and activity; change and transformation; joy and happiness;
  adaptability; and an invitation to dive deeper into feeling and understanding.

That describes perfectly our organization and our experience on this journey of decolonization. REACH is expanding and shifting in many exciting ways! We are happy to welcome Heather Augustine to our team as our new Maine Community Organizer, a position that has only ever been held by Barbara Kates. We are pleased that Barbara is not leaving us but has shifted her focus to volunteer roles within REACH. Heather and Barbara have been working together for the past month to ensure a smooth transition, which has given us some time to pause, reflect, and look forward. 

In 2014, when Barbara Kates joined our team, REACH was focused on supporting the TRC process and her role was to engage and support non-native people in truth-telling. She recalls “I felt like a beginner in a lot of ways, which was exciting to be a beginner again at that time of my life. I had a very steep learning curve and was taking it step by step, hoping I did more good than harm.”

As this work continued, we soon realized that folks were more likely to speak to the TRC if they understood its importance and knew more about Wabanaki Maine shared history. REACH began providing educational programs in communities where non-Native statements were being given, including a day-long workshop to help people know how to be good allies. These workshops were well-received and there was lots of enthusiasm mounting. “Folks were ready to build a movement,” Barbara recalled, “Our idea of what we wanted to do just kept expanding and we were excitedly bringing this into the REACH meetings with very little attention to the fact that we were taking up more time and were centering non-Native activity into REACH.”

This time in REACH’s history marked an important transition in our cross-cultural work and was another opportunity for restorative practice; for truth, healing, and change. The Native folks in REACH had to bring this to the attention of the non-Native folks; our team had to remember our purpose and reevaluate how we engaged Maine communities. “We were blown away, because we had been so oblivious to it,” Barbara said, “We had the problem of us not noticing what we should have noticed. And then we also had the problem of this whole ally work, which was encouraging people to center themselves in the very work that it was. I’m the ally, I’m going to come into the middle of this situation and find a way to be helpful.”

The mission and heart of REACH has always been to support Wabanaki health, wellness and self-determination. Figuring out how to engage Maine communities in that work and being clear about expectations has been a welcome challenge. “We had been telling people in words what we wanted them to do, that your work is in your communities,” Barbara recalled. “We then had to redesign our day workshop so that it's really focused on understanding colonization in a personal way, through the privilege work, and then understanding that our work has to happen within our organizations and institutions to make change.”

REACH's work has and continues to evolve as we learn and grow together. We are grateful to Barbara for all the critical ways she has contributed to this work and to the richness of our team. She worked tirelessly developing the map exercise called Exploring Wabanaki/Maine History, engaging schools in learning, managing volunteers, and helping other non-Native folks really understand how to best serve native people. She explains it this way, “If we think of the allies in our lives, they are people who we’ve chosen, not who have chosen to put themselves in front of us; so we work in our own communities, and we remain ready if we’re asked to do ally work.”

Barbara will remain part of the REACH team as a volunteer facilitating events, developing and improving existing programs, mentoring and supporting new facilitators, and of course being available as a support to Heather as she takes over the position. “I am really thrilled that Heather has taken this on, she’s asking such great questions, things I hadn’t thought of at all; and she is so enthusiastic about the work,” Barbara said. “I think also having an Indigenous woman in this role is going to change it, and I’m really excited about that, to see where that goes.”


Heather Augustine is a member of the Elsipogtog First Nation Canada and lives in Brunswick ME with her four children. She has served as a therapeutic foster parent, a corrections officer, and as President of the Native student group at USM where she attended college. During the planning stages of the TRC, Heather participated in a REACH retreat that brought Wabanaki folks together to talk about child welfare and truth-telling. She recalls: “That was the first time I heard about the Indian Child Welfare Act; my dad is an Indian Residential School survivor, so that’s had a huge impact obviously on my life.”

 Heather spent some time in Oakland, California working as a professional break dancer, it was there that she was introduced to the Intertribal Friendship House, an urban center for Native people to come together. She returned to Maine with the goal of creating such a space here. “It really took—I think almost 20 years for me to make that happen, I started working on bringing Native people in mid-coast and Southern Maine together just to share our stories, our culture, and our lives with one another” she continues, “I’ve been nurturing that community for almost two years now. We call it Mawita’nej First Nation Youth Group, it means 'where we gather.' This has been the joy of my life.”

Heather has been part of REACH's Decolonizing Faith work since last summer, developing and implementing curriculum and has spent the past month immersing herself in REACH programming. She has participated in Exploring Wabanaki/Maine History, read the TRC report, and viewed Dawnland. She shared what that has been like for her, “I’m slowly digesting a lot of the content, and it’s very sad. I’m trying to love myself all the way through it, it feels much different when you’re learning from the position of helping others heal from it.”

We are grateful to Barbara for all she has done to bring truth, healing, and change work to Maine communities and are equally grateful to have Heather ready to move this work forward. We agree with Heather when she says “coming to work with REACH has just been…probably like a dream come true, honestly.”


A New Bilingual Publication of Transformer Tales

by Carol Dana

Over a century ago, a Penobscot elder named Newell Lyon was visited on Indian Island by anthropologist Frank Speck, from the University of Pennsylvania. Together, they carried out linguistic and cultural research, and worked to devise the earliest writing system for the Penobscot language. One result of their work was the publication in August 1918 of Penobscot Transformer Tales, a series of stories about the Wabanaki culture hero Gluscabe.

I have been working with Margo Lukens to produce a modern version of Transformer Tales. The first volume of 13 tales will be published shortly by University of Massachusetts Press. The new book will include the original Penobscot of Speck and Lyon, the English translation, and the full text in modern day Penobscot. Dr. Conor Quinn, linguist at USM, has collaborated with us in re-writing all those stories into contemporary Penobscot.

Throughout the stories, the theme of the teachings is Balance. In the telling, Newell Lyon consulted Penobscot elders to verify and enrich details. The fact that he worked in conjunction with his elders speaks to me, because we never operate alone. If we listen well to our elders throughout our life, we will have learned many things. I do this even today.

The springboard for the teachings comes from Gluscabe's Grandmother Woodchuck. Her wisdom guides him through the many adventures described in the Tales.

One afternoon, Margo and I were talking about Gluscabe being told by Grandmother Woodchuck about Winter, how it was being so cruel to the people who couldn’t hunt and often froze to death or starved. Gluscabe went to see the Old Man in the ice house, who mocked him and froze him out. (Because he is Gluscabe and has so much power, he revived and came back with a plan.) In the midst of this discussion I began crying because our people have been frozen out of society for how many years, four hundred?

Gluscabe had gone to find Winter on Grandmother’s behest: "Majamto!" (he is very cruel), she cried, "and people are starving." Eventually Gluscabe followed through on his plan to get Summer and bring her into the ice house. (Although there is no gender in the Penobscot language, I imagine Summer to be a female spirit; in other stories, she’s Queen Summer.)

Gluscabe, in turn, mocks Grandfather, who says, "Tapahmalsi!" (It’s too hot, Grandson!) Grandfather and Grandson are terms of respect. Eventually Old Winter melts and that’s how the season of Summer came to bring balance to the year.

I love these stories because they talk about power and remind us of the power we have. It’s always about Balance, even in the case of The Giant Frog. It was his job to guard the water, yet he got carried away and grew bigger and bigger by keeping it all to himself, while people were dying of thirst. "Why do you enfeeble our people?" Gluscabe asks.

Transformer Tales are stories of conservation, and considering those generations yet to come when we make our decisions today. Sometimes we have to think of what is opposite to get the meaning of what the values are, as in Grasshopper Steals All the Tobacco. Hoarding goes against the cultural value of sharing available resources with everyone, so no one is left out.

That original Penobscot writing system was changed and greatly expanded through the efforts of Frank Siebert (1912-1998), a doctor and self-taught linguist. As a young student, Siebert began visiting Indian Island in the 1930s, writing down language from our people — at a point when people had stopped talking their language, or it was on a decline due to assimilation. The people who lived upriver came down to the island because the state was restricting their hunting and trapping. The big wigs in the tribe went door to door and told people: "We have to talk English now and work in town. Never mind making baskets." And they did. I worked with Frank Siebert from 1982 to 1985 on creating a Penobscot dictionary with 15,000 entries, and it is his writing system that I had the tribe adopt as the official language of the Penobscot Nation through a Tribal Council motion and vote in the 1990s.

Today, a contemporary, English-entry Penobscot dictionary is being produced that will expand understanding of our language. See also:

Transformer Tales carry ancient teachings to us in Penobscot. Stephen Krashen (a linguist specializing in second language acquisition) says that if you can read in a language you can speak it. This new edition will be a resource for our people into the future.

Some day I would like to see animations done of these stories, with full text in the Penobscot language. The stories will speak to us differently at various times in our life, yet they are timeless. We plan to create a second volume of stories, once we've brought this first volume to life.


Healing Circles in Maine Prisons: Connecting Native People with Community and Culture

by Maine-Wabanaki REACH and
Rachel C. Casey, PhD, MSW

Incarceration of Native Peoples

In the current era of mass incarceration in the United States, unjust policies have disproportionately impacted Native people, resulting in their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.(1,2) The most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that approximately 24,000 Native people are incarcerated in state and federal prisons, while another 9,000 are incarcerated in local jails.(3) These numbers likely underestimate the actual extent of Native incarceration since documentation of Native status varies greatly across systems and

The incarceration of Native people can be understood as an extension of colonization insofar as settlers - people responsible for the development of laws and public policies, the vast majority of whom are white (4) - have orchestrated the "economic and sociocultural deprivation" of Native people through institutional confinement.(5,6) Although the criminal justice system does not ostensibly target Native people, the disproportionate incarceration of Native people effectively replicates the colonizing effects of Indian Residential Schools by removing Native people from their tribal communities, often for minor offenses.(7,8) Native incarceration thus compounds the "long legacy of chronic trauma and unresolved grief" that Native people have endured as a result of colonization.(9)

Healing Circles

Native communities employ many traditional healing practices to counter the devastating effects of colonization. In the context of many Native spiritual traditions, the circle is considered a sacred symbol representing many aspects of cultural knowledge.(10,11) Building upon this sacred symbol, Native communities have long used the talking circle as a ceremony to bring people together "for the purposes of teaching, listening, and learning."(12) Healing circles, sometimes referred to as peacemaking circles, represent a specific type of talking circle intended to restore relationships through truth-seeking and reconciliation.(13)

During the healing circle, participants sit in a circle to demonstrate that all are valued members of the community.(7) The facilitator of the circle opens with a prayer, spiritual reflection, or meditation. Participants may then practice smudging, the Native custom of burning sacred herbs to cleanse energy.(14) An object, such as a stick, stone, or feather, is introduced as the talking piece for the circle; only the person holding the talking piece speaks, while all others listen without interrupting.(15) Participants pass the talking piece around the circle in a clockwise direction, perhaps several times, until the circle comes to an end. Another important aspect of circles is storytelling, which serves as the mechanism by which Native history and culture are taught.

While Native people have been holding circles for thousands of years as part of their traditional practices,(7,10)  there has been a recent trend in the use of circles by both Native and non-Native people as an evidence-based practice to promote restorative justice and healing across a variety of contexts. For example, healing circles have been incorporated into treatment services for substance abuse and trauma.(16-20) Healing circles may also ameliorate the suffering of those impacted by crime or wrongful conviction.(21-23) Activists for criminal justice reform promote the use of healing circles and other restorative justice practices as alternatives to incarceration, especially for youth ensnared in the so-called "school-to-prison pipeline."(24,25) Despite the employment of healing circles across these various contexts, seemingly few attempts have been made to use healing circles to promote the healing of currently incarcerated people.(26)

Maine-Wabanaki REACH in Maine Prisons

Members of Maine-Wabanaki REACH initially held healing circles with incarcerated Wabanaki people as an extension of the truth-seeking efforts of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC was formed in 2013 in response to ongoing difficulties around the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.(27) Central to the work of the TRC was the gathering of statements from Wabanaki people about their experiences in the child welfare system, and REACH circle facilitators sought to include incarcerated Wabanaki people in this process. Recognizing the need for continued healing among incarcerated Wabanaki people, REACH circle facilitators have maintained a regular schedule of healing circles in correctional facilities across Maine since 2015. 

The healing circles are offered in 12-week sessions twice per year, in the fall and spring. Healing circles are held every other week during the session, following the format described above. Circle facilitators, who are Natives themselves, also integrate multiple cultural elements into the circles, such as Wabanaki language lessons, drumming, and history discussions. Since 2015, REACH circle facilitators have held a total of 44 sessions comprised of 264 individual circles across five correctional facilities in Maine: Bolduc Correctional Facility, Mountain View Correctional Facility, Maine State Prison, Maine Correctional Center, and the Southern Maine Re-entry Center. 

Facilitating Connection

At the end of each session of healing circles, facilitators solicited feedback from participants about their experiences. Participants identified three forms of connection developed through the healing circles: 1) connection with oneself; 2) connection with the Native community; and 3) connection with Native culture. Unless otherwise indicated with an endnote, the quotations below are from healing circle participants.

Connection with Oneself

Because incarceration separates people from many aspects of their life that provide purpose and fulfillment - such as family and work - incarceration can prompt distress and a sense of identity loss. (27, 28) The healing circles provide a space in which participants can process the traumatic impact of both incarceration and colonization through mindfulness meditation and other spiritual practices. When asked for feedback about their experiences in the healing circles, many participants emphasized the sense of peace the circles bring them. For some participants, the feeling of calm extends beyond their time in the circle, helping them feel more relaxed and present overall. Participants may feel increasingly at ease as a result of the circles because the healing circle encourages authentic sharing. When participants have space to "speak freely without feeling judged," they feel calm and can develop a deeper understanding of themselves. As one participant said, "I go back to my room with a better feeling of myself." The grounding of the healing circles in Wabanaki culture also supports positive identity development among participants. (14,30) In connecting with their Native community and culture, as will be discussed below, participants also connect with themselves on a deeper level. One participant expressed this sentiment, "I was lost but this feels good to find out who I am."

Connection with the Native Community

The healing circles provide important opportunities for incarcerated Native people to develop connections with one another, forming a positive sense of community within the correctional environment. Participants in the healing circles share a commitment to Native values of "unity, harmony, [and] honesty," ensuring "the circles are a space to feel grateful, to feel safe and welcomed." During a time when these folks are separated from their family and other existing connections to their tribal community, the healing circle becomes a meaningful source of respect and support. Many participants used the word "brotherhood" to describe the connections formed with others in the circles. The "sense of belonging" experienced in the circles is so powerful that one participant stated, "It's like a puzzle piece that's been missing." Participants' connections with the Native community often continue after they are released from incarceration. Some participants become involved in other REACH programming, while others seek connections with members of their respective tribal communities. For this reason, one participant explained that a healing circle "impacts more people than [those] who are sitting in the room."

Connection with Native Culture

When asked what participants value about the circles, many cited specific cultural elements, such as language, drumming, and smudging. Access to many Native cultural practices is limited during incarceration due to institutional security protocols, (26) so the healing circles represent a unique opportunity for participants to feel "connected to cultural beliefs and ceremonies." Participants also learn information about Native history that was never included in their formal education. One participant stated, the healing circles "ground me in my heritage," and many others echoed this sentiment. This connection with Native culture is essential for the healing of intergenerational trauma related to colonization. (31) Through participation in the healing circles, incarcerated Native people experience "the healing power of cultural resurgence, and how culture as healing is decolonizing." (32)


Feedback from participants emphasizes the profound impact the healing circles have had in their lives. This tremendous contribution to the Wabanaki community was made possible through the consistent commitment of REACH, its staff and volunteers, and its resources. This invaluable work requires ongoing support - both monetary and logistical - from community partners as well. With this ongoing support, the connections formed through REACH programming have the power to promote healing during incarceration and beyond.


We would like to acknowledge the healing circle facilitators who have dedicated their time and energy over the last five years: Denise Altvater, Esther Anne, Sandra Bassett, Tom Doyle, Maria Girouard, Roger Paul, and Katie Tomer.

Rachel Casey would like to acknowledge Sammy Ellie Kohn-Levitt for her research assistance.


1. Franklin, T. W. (2013) Sentencing Native Americans in US federal courts: An examination of disparity. Justice Quarterly, 30(2), 310-339. DOI:10.1080/07418825.2011.605072
2. Janisch, R. F. (2014). Native American incarceration: A neglected problem? Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, 19, 159-177. DOI:10/1108/51521-613620140000019007
3. Bronson, J., & Carson, E. A. (2019). Prisoners in 2017 (NCJ 252156). US Department of Justice. Retrieved from
4. Bonds, A., & Inwood, J. (2016). Beyond white privilege: Geographies of white supremacy and settler colonialism. Progress in Human Geography, 40(6), 715-733.
5. Chartrand, V. (2019). Unsettled Times: Indigenous incarceration and the links between colonialism and the penitentiary in Canada. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 61(3), 67-89. Quote from p. 68.
6. Kirmayer, L., Simpson, C. & Cargo, M. (2003). Healing traditions: Culture, community and mental health promotion with Canadian Aboriginal peoples. Australasian Psychiatry, 11, 515-523. 
7. Hyatt, A. E. (2013). Healing Through Culture for Incarcerated Aboriginal People. First Peoples Child & Family Review, 8(2), 40-53.
8. Macdonald, N. (2016, February 16). Canada's prisons are the new "residential schools." Maclean's. Retrieved from
9. Brave Heart, M. Y. H., & DeBruyn, L. M. (1998). The American Indian holocaust: Healing historical unresolved grief. American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research, 8(2), 60-82.
10. Brown, J. E. (1989). The sacred pipe: Black Elk's account of the seven rites of the Oglala Sioux. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
11. Coyhis, D., & Simonelli, R. (2008). The Native American healing experience. Substance Use & Misuse, 43, 1927-1949. DOI:10.1080/1082680802292584
12. Mehl-Madrona, L., & Mainguy, B. (2014). Introducing healing circles and talking circles into primary care. The Permanente Journal, 18(2), 4-9. Quote from p. 4.
13. Hand, C. A., Hankes, J., & House, T. (2012). Restorative justice: The indigenous justice system. Contemporary Justice Review, 15(4), 449-467. DOI:10.1080/10282580.2012.734576
14. Marsh, T.N., Cote-Meek, S., Young, N.L., Najavits, L.M., & Toulouse, P. (2016). Indigenous healing and Seeking safety: A blended implementation project for intergenerational trauma and substance use disorders. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 7(2). DOI:10/18584/iipj.2016.7.2.3
15. Gailey, T.H. (2015). Healing circles and restorative justice: Learning from non-Anglo American traditions. Anthropology Now, 7(2), 1-7. DOI:10.1080/19428200.2015.1058116
16. Baez, M.S.E., Isaac, P., & Baez, C.A. (2016). H.O.P.E. for Indigenous people battling intergenerational trauma: The Sweetgrass Method. Journal of Indigenous Research, 5(2).
17. Charbonneau-Dahlen, B.K., Lowe, J., & Morris, S.L. (2016). Giving voice to historical trauma through storytelling: The impact of boarding school experience on American Indians. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 25(6), 598-617. DOI:10.1080/10926771.2016.1157843
18. Greenfield, B.L., & Venner, K.L. (2012). Review of substance use disorder treatment research in Indian country: Future directions to strive toward health equity. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 38(5), 483-492. DOI:10.3109/00952990.2012.702170
19. Marsh, T.N. Marsh, D.C., Ozawagosh, J., & Ozawagosh, F. (2018). The sweat lodge ceremony: A healing intervention for intergenerational trauma and substance use. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 9(2). DOI:10.18584/iipj.2018.9.2.2
20. Vick, R.D., Smith, L.M., & Herrera, C.I.R. (1998). The healing circle: An alternative path to alcoholism recovery. Counseling and Values, 42(2), 133-141. DOI:10.1002/j.2161-007X.1998.tb00418.x
21. Gladue, Y.I. (2002). Healing circle ends grief and suffering. Windspeaker, 20(8).
22. Van Wormer, K. (2009). Restorative justice as social justice for victims of gendered violence: A standpoint feminist perspective. Social Work, 54(2), 107-116.
23. Walters, M.A. (2015). "I thought 'he's a monster'...(but) he was just...normal." Examining the therapeutic benefits of restorative justice for homicide. British Journal of Criminology, 55(6), 1207-1225.
24. Rodriguez Ruiz, R. (2017). School-to-prison pipeline: An evaluation of zero tolerance policies and their alternatives. Houston Law Review, 54(3), 803-837.
25. Schiff, M. (2018). Can restorative justice disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline? Contemporary Justice Review, 21(2), 121-139.
26. Waldram, J.B. (1997). The way of the pipe: Aboriginal spirituality and symbolic healing in Canadian prisons. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.
27. Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission. (2015). Beyond the mandate: Continuing the conversation. Retrieved from
28. Casey, R.C. (2017). Hard time: A content analysis of incarcerated women's personal accounts. Affilia: Journal of Women in Social Work, 33(1), 126-138. DOI:10.1177/0886109917718233
29. Sykes, G.M. (1958). The society of captives: A study of a maximum security prison. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
30. Gone, J.P. (2009). A community-based treatment for Native American historical trauma: Prospects for evidence-based practice. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 77, 751-762. DOI:10.1037/a0015390
31. Brave Heart, M.Y.H. (1998). The return to the sacred path: Healing the historical trauma and historical unresolved grief response among the Lakota through a psychoeducational group intervention. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 68(3), 287-305. DOI:10.1080/00377319809517532
32. Park, A.S.J. (2016). Remembering the children: Decolonizing community-based restorative justice for Indian Residential Schools. Contemporary Justice Review, 19(4), 424-444. Quote from p. 439, emphasis original.



Read more

"Taking on the Doctrine of Discovery: What are our next steps?"

A project of the Indigenous Values Initiative + American Indian Law Alliance

Maine-Wabanaki REACH Board Member, Diane Oltarzewski describes this conference she attended in August 2018

Tipped off that this gathering would be a significant experience, I registered and got myself out to Liverpool NY this past August — not quite knowing what to expect but hoping to gain a better understanding of indigenous perspectives nationwide.


I arrived at the Skä Noñh - Great Law of Peace Center, on the eastern shore of Onondaga Lake, and found there a marvelous revelation of Haudenosaunee history, culture and experience.

Downstairs there is the bookstore, a current exhibit of the Red Dresses (signifying missing and murdered native women), and the seating area where the panel discussions would take place.

Upstairs were the permanent installations, including The Gathering of the Good Mind, Greetings to the Natural World, Native Food and Medicine, The Words that Come Before All Else (Thanksgiving Address), the Roots of Democracy, Women's Movement, an entire wall on Boarding Schools, with many interactive features to focus in on specific stories - all of it was presented so cleanly and directly, like an invigorating breath of fresh air!

           Diane_O_Blog_2.jpg        Diane_O_Blog_3.jpg



I learned about the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the People of the Longhouse, now comprised of six tribes: Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Tuscarora. The Great Tree of Peace is the white pine, symbol of unity among the nations. The Great Law of Peace and the Thanksgiving Address were both established at Onondaga Lake at least a thousand years ago when a Peacemaker in a white canoe arrived to resolve inter-tribal conflicts. The Onondaga Nation is one of only a handful of Indigenous Nations that still governs itself by its pre-Discovery form of clan government.        Diane_O_Blog_6.jpg

And then the panel discussions began! Everyone present was there to grapple with what action is needed to effect real change. I heard many wise voices new to me: Freida Jean Jacques (Onondaga) Turtle Clan Mother, speaking against racism and about the Good Mind. Steven Newcomb (Shawnee/Lenape), who has analyzed the cognitive and Biblical underpinnings of conquest and domination carried out in North America to subjugate originally free and independent Indigenous Nations. His book Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery is eye-opening and a must-read. Tupac Enrique Acosta (Aztec), who asked "When did light divide into white and less-than-white?" Joe Heath (Onondaga) Legal Counsel, who documented examples of how the Doctrine of Christian Discovery has become encoded in U.S. law over the centuries, differentiating between Native "occupancy" (a lesser claim) and the "absolute title" conferred by so-called discovery. Jake Edwards (Onondaga) who said: "Colonizers are in deep trouble because they don't recognize their broken heart...we have to put our minds together if we want change to happen."

A water ceremony was held on the shore of the terminally polluted Lake Onondaga - I'd brought a little jar of water from the Passagassawakeag River to mingle with other waters from many sources, joining in a healing prayer.

I learned about the "way of land return" from John Stoesz, a Mennonite attending from Minnesota. On the theme of "RENT IS DUE" John has sparked a program by which non-Natives can opt to pay monthly back-rent, return proceeds of land sales, put land reparations in a will, deed land to an Indigenous community, or return what is paid in property taxes to a tribe. As a Minnesotan, his land return has been to the Dakota people who had been driven out of the area.

As a Mainer, I took John's idea as a direct challenge to begin paying a metaphorical "back-rent" where I live. Committing to an open-ended monthly contribution - even on a small scale - to support the work of Maine Wabanaki REACH feels like an appropriate action. It is easy to set up on the REACH website using Paypal (where you can choose Credit Card or Bank Account). I encourage you to take this step—and to be on the lookout for information about next year's DoD Conference!

Indigenous Peoples Day 2018 - Dawnland Screenings



 "In Maine, a historic investigation—the first government-sanctioned truth and reconciliation commission in the United States—begins a bold journey. For over two years, Native and non-Native commissioners travel across Maine. They gather testimony and bear witness to the devastating impact of the state’s child welfare practices on families in Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribal communities. Collectively, these tribes make up the Wabanaki people." - Adam Mazo / Ben Pender-Cudlip                           

Communities all over Maine are abuzz with excitement and anticipation of Dawnland, the documentary of the Maine Wabanaki - State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC). Several community groups and organizations are hosting screenings of Dawnland this month, in timely recognition of Indigenous People's Day 2018 - See below.

View the Dawnland Trailer:

For a complete listing of Maine viewings and others scheduled across the country and ticket info visit:


Scheduled Maine Screenings

October 17, 2018

Portland, Maine Public Schools

with learning director Dr. Mishy Lesser and Barbara Kates (Maine-Wabanaki REACH)

October 18, 2018  6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Blue Hill, Maine Library
Blue Hill Public Library, 5 Parker Point Rd, Blue Hill, ME 04614, USA

with Barbara Kates of Maine-Wabanaki REACH

October 24, 2018  6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Portland Public Library, Maine
Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Way, Portland, ME 04101, USA - Rines Auditorium

with film participant Esther Anne (Maine-Wabanaki REACH) and Dr. Mishy Lesser (Upstander Project Learning Director)
See Website for Info

October 29, 2018  6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

University of Maine - Orono
The University of Maine, College Ave, Orono, ME 04469, USA - Donald P. Corbett Building - Room 100

with filmmaker Ben Pender-Cudlip, learning director Dr. Mishy Lesser, TRC commissioners and film participants Matt Dunlap, Sandy White Hawk and Gail Werrbach, film participant Esther Anne (Maine-Wabanaki REACH) and moderated by Jennifer Rooks
sponsored by Maine Public

November 3, 2018  1:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Kittery, Maine
The Star Theatre, 120 Rogers Rd, Kittery, ME 03904, USA

with learning director Dr. Mishy Lesser
free event


Restorative Justice in Community

Photo_-_James_E_Francis_Sr.jpg                                                                   Photo Credit: James E. Francis Sr.

REACH continues to put forth the idea of restorative justice and other restorative practices in tribal communities.  Restorative Justice is a philosophy, process, and practice rooted in indigenous cultural values and focused on making things right-on repairing harm. These practices are valuable tools in mediating conflict and creating safe, peaceful spaces of mutual respect and compassion.

We held three regional restorative justice educational events with tribal community audiences. The discussion at these forums was rich and community members offered two suggestions for us in this work: provide more education about restorative justice and engage with each of the schools. We have been moved by the enthusiasm of participants when brainstorming the possibilities that restorative practices might bring to our tribal schools. In June, we presented to the Joint School Committee at their annual meeting in Bar Harbor and will visit Indian Island School Committee for further dialogue in January.  

We are excited about the traveling Restorative Justice Exhibit we have created and the many ways we can use it to educate about what restorative justice is, what it is not, and how it aligns with Wabanaki values. The 8-panel display also includes information about how Native Americans experience the highest disproportionate rate of incarceration.  To help deliver our message we used paintings created and donated by a Native inmate who participates in the healing circles we offer at the prisons. We debuted the exhibit at our annual Wabanaki Wellness Gathering in Sipayik and are currently seeking venues in Wabanaki communities to display the exhibit and continue dialogue about restorative practices.  Conflict in our communities is inevitable.  How we deal with it is a choice.

We are also in the process of creating another exhibit geared toward non-Native people that will be used in venues across Maine to educate about history, disproportionate rates of incarceration, the prison industrial complex, restorative justice and ways to engage with truth, healing and change.

Where is the Love

By, Maria Girouard


Where is the Love ~ REACH work in Wabanaki communities provides space for learning and reflection. We balance our learning about history and intergenerational trauma with reflecting on the goodness in our communities, practicing tools for resilience, and drawing from community strengths. As Native people, we are recipients of an exorbitant amount of trauma and stress in our lives but we also possess great strengths and acknowledge that the solution to healing lies in our rich culture.

While oftentimes it feels as though there is a great burden to bear under the weight of history, in the wake of Valentine's Day we wanted to show you the love.

When Wabanaki community members are asked to reflect on what they love about their tribal communities, the answers flow freely. Below are just some of the things we love about our tribal communities:

"Our willingness to come together to help when needed."
The beauty.
The water.
"We care about each other. We're all Indians."
The People, family, the connection.
Our language.
Friends that are like family.
Our culture and traditions.
Our history and that we are here.
The river and canoeing.
"People are friendly, they are caring, inquisitive and love their community."
Potlucks, socials, and other gatherings.
"What I love about my community is our togetherness. We help each other in so many great ways - socials, teaching each other, being close. Our community is our home and home is where the heart is."

We are truly blessed to be living in the footsteps of our Ancestors, on land that has nourished us for millennia.