Blog: Voices of Decolonization

Maine Community Organizing – Higher Education


REACH provides presentations and workshops across Maine, including in institutions of higher education for faculty, staff, and students. Colleges and universities are the sites of thinking, research, learning, and creative expression. They also have been the generators of knowledge – including that which is colonized. However, there is greater movement afoot for Maine colleges and universities to generate decolonized knowledge.

Faculty, staff, and students engaged in REACH educational programs seek to correct the erroneous history we all have been taught, exposing present-day oppression, and creating a more just history for our grandchildren. Some have been working to create positive change long before REACH, while others are just beginning their journey to learn about decolonization.

Maine institutions of higher learning have history and present reality to acknowledge and grapple with from the theft of Wabanaki land and massacre of Wabanaki people to conflicts when academic theories contribute to the continued colonial oppression of Native people. Repairing those harms can begin by ensuring culturally grounded support for Native students, by recruiting and retaining Native faculty and staff, by developing decolonized coursework, by the University of Maine system reinstating the Native American Tuition Waiver and Scholarship Program as it was intended, and by other colleges creating tuition waiver programs for Native students.

U-Maine campuses (UMA, UMM, UMO, USM, and UMPI), Bates, Colby, Bowdoin, and other schools are collaborating with REACH to host learning experiences about colonization and decolonization. Ongoing groups at UMO and USM focus on transforming their institutions by learning about the history and current reality of tribal-state relations, creating greater capacity to be truth tellers about the adverse impacts of colonial oppression on Native communities, and building supports to improve Native students’ experience and increase their recruitment, retention, and academic success.

Maine colleges and universities are recognizing their responsibility for strengthening higher education for the benefit of Native students and Wabanaki communities. They are starting with learning about and understanding the history that brought us to this point, acknowledging the harms they can repair, and leveraging their collective strengths and privileges to begin creating change by:

  • Supporting new and ongoing Native American student groups;
  • Reviewing (and hopefully reversing) the changes made in 2012 to the Native American Tuition Waiver and Scholarship Program;
  • Creating dedicated residence hall space for Native students;
  • Establishing dedicated meeting space for Native student groups;
  • Making Wabanaki language class accessible to other UM campuses through distance technology;
  • Networking between colleges and universities to share these innovations.

To request an educational presentation or workshop visit this link to our website:

Wabanaki Health, Wellness, and Self Determination - Capacitar, meaning, “to empower”.

Excerpt - REACH 2017 Winter Newsletter

Robin_Farrin_Pic_-_REACH_2017_Winter_Newsletter.png                                                                              Photo credit: Robin Farrin

The health and wellness work of Maine-Wabanaki REACH focuses on understanding intergenerational trauma, how trauma becomes trapped in our bodies, and healthy ways to release that trauma. Empowerment and selfcare is an important part of the healing journey. During our 4th annual Wabanaki Wellness Gathering held in the Passamaquoddy community of Sipayik, a Capacitar-style resiliency workshop was offered teaching simple techniques that lead to immediate well-being.

Capacitar is a Spanish verb meaning, “to empower.” A Capacitar-style resiliency workshop is based on healing tools and techniques compiled by an organization called Capacitar International that demonstrate how our bodies possess natural capacities to heal. We are simply uncovering what our bodies already naturally know. The act of sighing is a good example. When we sigh, we may be signaling our frustration or impatience however Capacitar teaches us that a sigh is our body's natural mechanism for releasing stress or anxiety. Deeply inhaling and hearing the sound of its release is a beneficial signal to our bodies. Studies show that the simple act of sighing signals a reset button to our respiratory systems and calms us.

Capacitar-style exercises are body-based healing practices that foster relief from pent-up trauma, anxiety and stress which may be stored in our bodies. Exercises include techniques such as mindful breathing, fingerholds, t’ai chi movements, acupressure and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT, otherwise known as “tapping”). Although Susan Coopersmith led the Capacitarstyle workshop at the Wellness Gathering, a wonderful thing about this practice is that anyone can do it at home whenever needed. Knowledge of Capacitar-style techniques are freely shared, empowering people to know and trust in the needs of their own bodies - experts are not required.

Since 2014, REACH has offered workshops on Cppacitar-style techniques in four Wabanaki communities. We are eager to continue passing along this knowledge and are willing to circle back to tribal communities to offer a second round of workshops. To host a “Tools and Techniques for Self-Healing” workshop in your tribal community or for your tribal organization, contact Maria at

Learn more about Capacitar International, Healing Ourselves, Healing our World, and download the Emergency Response Tool Kit at

Supporting Inmates and Families Through Incarceration

By, Maine-Wabanaki REACH


As part of our vision toward Restorative Justice, Maine-Wabanaki REACH leads circles in Maine prisons for native inmates, providing inmates with the tools for self-care and healing and helping to bring ceremony and connection to our incarcerated relatives. We recognize the importance of maintaining connection and regularly send our newsletter and forgiveness cards to native inmates in Maine State prisons.*

Through this work, we have learned a lot about the Maine corrections system and how to support inmates and their families and wanted to share some of our insight.

  • Regardless of the circumstances of the incarceration, it is a painful and confusing experience for loved ones, especially for children. Caregivers agree it is best to talk openly to children about incarceration and there are many resources that help guide that conversation and provide ways to support children. The Sesame Project provides a free tool-kit of videos, games and books to help children through this difficult time
  • When inmates stay connected to their family, friends and even pen pals, they are more likely to participate in healing and educational programs while incarcerated and are more successful at re-entry.
    • Letters and cards can provide an emotional lifeline and inmates can receive mail wherever they are housed. When sending mail to an inmate, to ensure smooth delivery, make sure to write the inmates first and last name, their inmate number if known, and include a return name and address.
    • In-person visits and phone calls have a positive impact on how well the inmate fares in prison or jail. Each correctional facility has different rules and processes for visits and phone calls, many require multiple steps and phone calls are usually costly. You will need to contact the prison or jail directly to find out what their process is.
  • When inmates feel better about themselves, they are more able to focus on their own healing. Through an account established at the prison or jail, inmates can purchase simple comforts like personal hygiene items, snacks and magazines which can make a big difference in their mindset and self-esteem. Adding money to their account is a great way to show you care. Each facility has a different process for how to add money so contact the prison or jail directly to ask about their process.
  • The Maine State Prison system’s website provides contact information for each facility and a way to search the database of adult inmates to see their offenses, sentence, inmate number and where they are housed. Here is the complete list of prisons:
    • Bolduc Correctional Facility 516 Cushing Road, Warren ME 04864 273-2036
    • Mountain View Correctional Facility 1202 Dover Road Charleston, ME 04422 285-0800
    • Downeast Correctional Facility 64 Base Road Machiasport, ME 04655 255-1100
    • Maine Correctional Center 17 Mallison Falls Road Windham, ME 04062 893-7000
    • Maine State Prison 807 Cushing Road Warren, ME 04864 273-5300
    • So Maine Women’s Reentry Center 230 River Road, Windham, ME 04062 893-7178
  • The County Jail information system is not coordinated and not all of the Jails have websites to provide information, but they all have phone numbers. Here are the county jails closest to Tribal communities:
    • Aroostook County Jail 15 Broadway, Houlton, ME 04730 532-7317
    • Washington County Jail 83 Court St, Machias, ME 04654 255-3434
    • Penobscot County Jail 85 Hammond St, Bangor ME 04401 922-3898

* If your Native loved one is incarcerated in a Maine County Jail or another facility out of State and would like to receive REACH correspondence, please message us and we will add them to our mailing list.



Planting Seeds of Decolonization

Excerpt - REACH 2017 Winter Newsletter


Maine Wabanaki REACH is locally and organically grown.  We began as a collaboration of Wabanaki and Maine child welfare workers and we have developed into a broader network of Wabanaki and Maine people.  We began providing educational programs to offer a context for the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Quickly communities began to ask for more; more information, more understanding of how to move forward, and more time in community working together.  One project led to another. Responding to communities created new opportunities that were as varied as the communities are. 

In Wabanaki communities, REACH supports gatherings where people share their knowledge, skills and experience.  In Maine State prisons, we offer healing circles for Wabanaki prisoners.  In Maine communities, we offer workshops and presentations to help Mainers understand the relationship of Maine and tribal peoples and consider how to move toward a new relationship. Even as we make room for learning that is specific to communities, we are creating opportunities for us all to learn together with great speakers and interactive events.

Although our strategies may change, our goal has been constant: to support Wabanaki self-determination. Our model is fair trade. Through our interactions with you all, we adapt our programming. This flexibility has provided room for wonderful creativity and mixing of skills as reflected in the variety of projects and collaborations such as restorative justice work, healing work with native herbs and the Exploring Wabanaki Maine History – an interactive learning exercise.

One of the great pleasures of our work is to see communities move forward. It is like sharing seeds and then watching a completely new garden grow.  Healing work and medicinal gardens, film showings and study groups, youth leadership and history study – all around Wabanaki and Maine people are inviting their community to learn with them. Inspired after a REACH program, they are bringing together their own great skills and connections to create change in their communities.

In 2017, there were over 1800 participants in REACH learning and healing activities. We are glad we had time with so many of you and we look forward to more. Our motto has been truth, healing, and change. In 2018, we will continue this work with particular focus on how decolonization offers us the framework for change and can guide us in taking action.  Do you want REACH’s help to work towards truth, healing, and change in your community? Do you want to know what we are up to near you? Let us know.  You can reach us through our website

To view the full REACH 2017 Newsletter visit this link: REACH 2017 Winter Newsletter

Thank You For a Great Year!


Dear Friends of Maine-Wabanaki REACH,

We've been thinking about where we've come from and a lot about what's next. We wanted to share our thinking with you and let you know how you can help.

Thanks to everyone who has already contributed to our end of year fundraising request! If you have yet to make a contribution, we ask you to take a moment right now to visit our website and make your contribution.

Here are five reasons to thank you for an amazing 2017!

  • 1,467 non-Native and Wabanaki people participated in 46 learning experiences (presentations, panel discussions, workshops, and interactive activities) on the shared history of Native and non-Native people in Maine.
  • 104 people from Wabanaki communities participated in 3 regional Restorative Justice events.
  • 93 Native inmates have participated in 66 healing circles in 6 prisons.
  • 100 Wabanaki people participated in our annual wellness gathering, while 95 non-Native people participated in an annual convening focused on decolonization.
  • 63 non-Native and Wabanaki people participated in 3 Decolonizing Faith workshops.

In gratitude, we share thoughts from some of the 1,800 people that REACH has interacted with this year:

“I learned accurate history about my people. The facts ripped my heart out.  I am an activist now.  This experience totally gave me direction.  I educate fellow Natives every chance I get.  My children can tell you about so many different things.  My education is rubbing off on them.”
~ Caroline, Passamaquoddy tribal member

“I am aware of the history but seeing it and feeling it was rather upsetting.  Through the interactive activity, I saw and felt history.  It made me see that people outside of my race are interested in hearing these stories.  It makes me think that not everyone thinks that we, as Native Americans, ‘need to get over it.’”
~ Kylie Neptune, Passamaquoddy tribal member

“As a pre-k to 8th grade science, math and reading teacher in a border town, this knowledge is important to me personally and something I need to be able to communicate to my Native and non-Native students.  I still feel the power of what I experienced. I have found ways to celebrate Native history and culture through the natural sciences.”
~Anne Maghie, non-Native

“I appreciate that Native people are bringing ‘home’ to me.”  “This is a piece of life that I was missing.”  “I am learning about my ancestors.  I hope to learn the language, keep myself smudged and clean with sweet-grass.”  “I missed out on my teens and adulthood and I’m finally catching up.” “What we say matters.  We matter.”  “I am learning how to be together with other Natives; how to embrace being Native.”  “The circles have given me something positive to look forward to.”
~ from incarcerated participants of Wabanaki Healing Circles

“I believe we can change as a people and a culture. As the number of people attending REACH workshops grows so does the awareness of the land we walk on and the people of this land.  It is changing an uncountable number of daily conversations in small and significant ways.  REACH is giving my community a way forward.”
~ Simon Beckford, non-Native

“The workshop encouraged me to read more on Native education, bi-lingual education, cultural preservation and Native language meaning.   In my circles, I am one of the people who raise the questions about Native people.   I am very appreciative of the fact that I have been able to participate in this growing community.”
~ Andrea Mercado, non-Native

Please join us as we build resources for 2018 to continue this crucial healing and educational work.  Our total budget for 2018 is $175,000 and much of this is funded through private donations.  These are examples of how your donations will support our work.

  • $100 provides support to Wabanaki families to visit their relatives in prison.
  • $300 supports Maine community educational presentations.
  • $600 makes wellness events possible in Wabanaki communities.

$1200 supports healing circles for Wabanaki prisoners.

All donations of any amount are welcome.

As you make your donation, please consider forwarding this letter to others in your community so that they can support the effort.

To donate now click here:

“What most appeals to me about my work with Maine-Wabanaki REACH is highlighting community strengths and creating opportunities for sharing our ideas, knowledge, work and compassion.
~ Maria Girouard, Penobscot Nation, Health and Wellness Coordinator

To learn more about Maine-Wabanaki REACH, click here:

"We are glad you are here.  Our ancestors have been expecting us."

Maine-Wabanaki REACH


Thanksgiving in Your Home

 By Rabbi Erica Asch, Temple Beth El Augusta


 We encourage you to use this Thanksgiving Prayer at your tables as you gather in gratitude for the blessings of abundance you reap and sow. We offer you a bit of the background story to help you talk about what you have learned in todays service

Background: Thanksgiving is traced to a 1621 celebration in Plymouth. This feast by the Pilgrims was sparely documented. For many years, Thanksgiving observances varied from state to state. In 1863, President Lincoln, influenced by Sarah Joespha Hale, declared Thanksgiving an official holiday. He felt that Thanksgiving would foster a sense of unity between North and South during a time of war.

While for many European Americans Thanksgiving is a time of joyous celebration, it is not the same for native peoples. The arrival of European settlers brought devastation to native communities. Up to 90% of the native population were killed by disease. European settlers forced Native Americans off their lands and into reservations. They killed countless people and signed false treaties. Native children were taken from their families and forced into schools where they were forbidden to speak their language or practice their religion. This devastation still impacts native communities today.

 A Thanksgiving Prayer

As we gather around our tables, on this holiday of Thanksgiving, we pause.

We give thanks for the many blessings in our lives.


For the blessing of sustenance

The food on this table,

the people who labored to in fields and warehouses to bring it to us,

those who prepared this meal with love.


For the blessing of community

The opportunity to gather with family and friends

the ability to share our joy with others,

the support we find in hard times.


For the blessing of freedom

Shelter to protect us from the harsh winds of winter,

health to enjoy this meal together,

the ability to worship as we wish.


For the blessing of awareness

The ability to acknowledge the suffering and tragic losses of the native peoples,

the opportunity to raise our awareness

the chance to begin on a better path.


While we give thanks, we are also mindful

Of those who live with scarcity and do not know what they will eat tomorrow

Of those who sit alone, without a supportive community surrounding them

Of those who do not have adequate shelter

Of those who are not yet ready to leave their current way of thinking.


As we join together today in celebration, we know our joy is not complete.

We remember the oppression native peoples faced, and continue to face, at our hands.

We acknowledge the benefits we have gained, even if we were not directly responsible.

We take this opportunity to begin again.


As we enter into our Thanksgiving meal, we pause.

We acknowledge the suffering that has occurred.

We give thanks for our ability to turn towards a different path.

We take responsibility for creating the world in which we want to live, today and every day.


Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address



Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

 (The words in bold are not meant to be spoken)

The Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address is an ancient message of peace and appreciation of Mother Earth and her inhabitants. The children learn that, according to Native American tradition, people everywhere are embraced as family. Our diversity, like all wonders of Nature, is truly a gift for which we are thankful.

When one recites the Thanksgiving Address the Natural World is thanked, and in thanking each life-sustaining force, one becomes spiritually tied to each of the forces of the Natural and Spiritual World.  The Thanksgiving Address teaches mutual respect, conservation, love, generosity, and the responsibility to understand that what is done to one part of the Web of Life, we do to ourselves.

 Greetings to the Natural World

 The People

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Earth Mother

We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Waters

We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms‐waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Fish

We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks.

 Now our minds are one.


Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Food Plants

With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Medicine Herbs

Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Animals

We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so.

 Now our minds are one

 The Trees

We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Birds

We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds‐from the smallest to the largest‐we send our joyful greetings and thanks.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Four Winds

We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Thunderers

Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Sun

We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun.

 Now our minds are one.

 Grandmother Moon

We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night‐time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Stars

We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Enlightened Teachers

We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers.

 Now our minds are one.

 The Creator

Now we turn our thoughts to the creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.

 Now our minds are one.

 Closing Words

We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way.

 Now our minds are one.


Indigenous Peoples’ Day

By Barbara Kates


Across the country, individuals, organizations, and governments are recognizing the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  It is a change intended to honor Native Americans instead of honoring Christopher Columbus for all that he did and all he represents. Ceasing celebration of Christopher Columbus is an acknowledgement that Columbus led his men in heinous acts of murder and torture of thousands of Indigenous children, women, and men. Columbus represents the human destructiveness of colonial invasions and domination – and the beginning of the genocide of Indigenous people in this hemisphere.

Now we ask ourselves, what does it mean to honor Indigenous people?  We answer this question within the context of a dominant culture that insists on maintaining its own narrative about Indigenous people and refuses to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that the narrative has been filled with lies including the lies of ‘honoring’ Native people through Indian mascots, favorite children’s literature, movies, place names, and more. 

We have a lot to learn about how to honor Indigenous people. 

When communities replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we see the cracks in the false narrative and an opening for the truth to shine in.  We celebrate those who have been and are working to open those cracks for more education, healing, and change.

Maine communities are beginning to focus on the work that needs to be done in their own neighborhoods, recognizing that dismantling white supremacy and racist structures is the responsibility of non-Native people, not an additional burden to be borne by Native people.   People across this territory are taking it upon themselves to dismantle historical lies and myths that have shrouded the truth. Across Maine people are seeking to honor Indigenous people by:

  • learning about the collective histories and current relationships of Native and non-Native peoples through workshops, presentations, sermons, readings, films, and conversations.
  • connecting deeply with the land and waters and the responsibility we have to protect and restore the health of the earth
  • taking action for the land and waters
  • taking action to stop the state from continuing to take away territory, health and opportunity from Wabanaki people

Columbus Day was created to reinforce a limited narrative that our country was founded by brave explorers and settlers. That narrative told us that wars, slavery, and other forms of oppression were unfortunate by-products of the overall success of this earlier age.  In this narrative, genocide does not exist in America. When we gather to learn the full narrative, the full truth, we are involved in shaking the foundation of racism in this country. When we gather to deepen our commitment to health of the land and waters, we are creating a future for generations to come. When we take action, we honor Indigenous people.

Together - we are writing our Grandchildren’s history – one that they will be proud of.

I Have Good Work To Do Part 2: The TRC and REACH (Continued from May 4, 2017 blog post)

 By Jeffrey Hotchkiss



I was seeking. I thought about traveling out to Pine Ridge in South Dakota, near where the massacre took place, but cost and doubt prevented me. What would I do? Would I make a guilty white nuisance of myself? In my own neediness, would I inflict worse trauma?

By now, it was clear my intense guilt was a stage, a beginning, a motivation. The feeling of guilt was being replaced by expanding awareness of our harmful colonial history and its present day persistence. I was starting to learn about indigenous efforts, projects and movements that were bringing strength and hope. Instead of desperately trying to unburden myself, I could support their work - if and when invited to do so.

I found a group attempting to build a prenatal clinic at Pine Ridge and made several donations to them. It seemed appropriate to try to do some good for children there. But the project had lots of obstacles and has since folded.

I waited. And I continued to study and learn.

One day, I read in the newspaper that the chiefs of all the Wabanaki tribes in Maine, sat down with the governor to sign a declaration of intent to form the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its agreed on purpose was to inquire into the effects of Maine's failure to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 and to understand how this affected Wabanaki children and families. I read in particular about Denise Altvater of the Passamaquoddy Tribe who, with her sisters, was separated from her family and community. They experienced horrific abuse in foster care after being taken from their childhood home by DHHS caseworkers.

There it was. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) dealing with trauma to Native American children, not only in the U.S. but right in the state I was living in. I hoped there would be ways I could help.

I eagerly awaited further news. In June 2012, the signing ceremony for the TRC’s mandate was held in the Maine state capitol. Shortly afterward, I watched a TV interview with Denise Altvater, Esther Attean of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Martha Proulx from DHHS. Their stories reinforced my intention and I watched for the opportunity to volunteer to help the TRC do its work, in whatever capacity they would invite me.

Two years later, I saw a notice for volunteer training – I immediately signed up.

That was almost three years ago. Since then, everything that has happened has affirmed the wisdom of becoming involved with the TRC and REACH. I do not need to tell you all the details, as there are ample resources on their Facebook pages and websites that tell their story.

I found good work to do in supporting their purpose of decolonization. I unexpectedly have found community and connection with people throughout Maine and beyond. It turned out that hundreds of other people in Maine were motivated in ways similar to mine, and our numbers are growing as REACH staff host new trainings almost every month.

As elderhood hurtles toward me, I continue to learn and grow. I have read and heard so many stories that were ignored or glossed over in my formal education. The true history of my ancestors' treatment of the people native to this continent brought pain with awareness. I have met and learned from people who embody this history. The truth freed my soul to begin healing. I know now that I live on Wabanaki land, as a descendant of invaders, learning to be a respectful guest.

It feels good to know that I am helping to make a better world for all of our grandchildren. My deepest thanks go to all the people who have created this good work – those who are leading and those who work alongside me.


Here I See


covered with rock dust

            in his frock coat

                        with watch fob

            eyes deep

                        with pain & grief

He carries

            a shovel

                        over his shoulder


called forth, he asks

“Now, what [will you] have me do?”

I look to


            Spotted Elk

            is kneeling,


                        over a broken child

Ben and I


            at a distance,

                        to wait

                        until we know

We can wait for the end of time

By Jeffrey Hotchkiss



REACH Blog by Jeffrey Hotchkiss

On May 4, we posted part 1 of a moving post written by Jeffrey Hotchkiss, in which Jeffrey shared some of what he has learned about himself and his family as it relates to the Indigenous people of this land.

He took us to Wounded Knee and to his internal process of grappling with his desire to find peace quickly and his resolve to stay with the discomfort of longer term change. Part 2 was to follow the next week. Life being what it is and we humans being who we are, that didn’t happen.

We extend our apologies to Jeffrey and to those of you who awaited reading what Jeffrey had to say. We are re-posting both blogs today – in succession, so you can refresh your memory with what’s been said and read for the first time what follows.

Deepest gratitude to Jeffrey for sharing and moreover for being committed to decolonization for the benefit of Indigenous peoples. With love,

Penthea Burns, REACH Co-Director


"I Have Good Work To Do" by, Jeffrey Hotchkiss


April 2017

Awakening is hard


someone yanks off the covers

flings me

through the open window

into the cold deep snow

face first

bleeding from the holes in my body

Over and over again

Until I find good work to do

And do it.


As elderhood rolls toward me like an oncoming train, I have good work to do.

Grandchildren have blessed me, my paycheck job is fun and easy, I am building a holistic healing cooperative, and I am studying decolonization – of myself and the world around me.

I am very thankful to the people of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Maine Wabanaki REACH, for giving me the chance to do that studying.

It's been a long and often strange, often agonizing, ultimately wonderful trip.

Part 1 – Wounded Knee

The first decade of this century, wherein

I learned how to fly through the air, land softly and roll to my feet, then learned hands-on healing for myself and others, endured the loss of five loved ones in as many months including an old friend from prep school who fell from the sky when the North Tower collapsed on 9-11, opened up to a profound Earth connection, began exploring the history of indigenous peoples who always had that connection, experienced a sweat lodge, then experienced horror at the criminal travesty in Sedona when James Arthur Ray crammed sixty people into a so-called sweat lodge and killed three of them, read what Arvol Looking Horse had to say about it and realized that white people were stealing and profiting from Native spiritual traditions the same as we'd done with the land, continued to deepen and teach my healing practice, recovered memories of early trauma and left the corporate world for a deeper more financially humble healing odyssey complete with flashbacks and panic attacks, earned an EMT license and adventured on an ambulance partly as a way of rescuing myself, and became more and more convinced that European society had taken a horribly wrong turn somewhere back in time that caused us to commit global genocide in order to advance an inhuman and inhumane way of living,

ended with

one evening when

my son said, “Hey Dad, come look at this!”.

On Youtube I saw Keith Carradine explaining the revolutionary-for-its-time workings of the Hotchkiss Mountain Gun, a breech-loading rifled light cannon operated by three soldiers with a firing rate of four or five 1.65-inch shells a minute, deadly accurate up to a mile away. Then, the words “Wounded Knee” came up, and Carradine explained how four Hotchkiss guns so efficiently killed hundreds of Lakota men, women and children more than a century ago.

Everything stopped.

Piercing guilt consumed me. A member of my family had done bloody wrong to a whole nation. My siblings and I had grown up being told of “great-great-uncle Benjamin” whose company made machine guns and limousines for the French government. His widow had used his arms fortune to found the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut. When I was applying to prep schools, I had seen his portrait there; it strongly resembled my grandfather. I felt I had inherited a blood debt. It demanded to be honored.

When faced with a crisis, I first learn as much as I can about its history and dynamics. So I started to read, everything I could get my hands on about the Wounded Knee Massacre and the use of my great-great uncle's weapon – online, in books, and in correspondence with libraries, genealogists and military archives.

Here are a few of the things I learned:

- There are many accounts of this massacre and the events leading up to it. They are all gut-wrenching. If you decide to read any of them, provide for your emotional self-care.

- Although the Army and the press for years called it a battle, Wounded Knee was clearly a massacre. Most of the soldiers who died were killed by friendly fire. The soldiers rolled the Hotchkiss guns to the mouths of ravines where Lakota were seeking shelter and fired indiscriminately. The soldiers' shooting went on for hours. There is ample other evidence of the murderous intent of the soldiers and their officers.

- The chief leading this band, named Spotted Elk, nicknamed Bigfoot, had a reputation for peacemaking among his people. He was very ill with pneumonia and lying on the ground when he was shot. His daughter was killed in front of him. He had tried so hard to bring his people to safety.

- Twenty Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to soldiers for the massacre. These medals have yet to be rescinded.

- There were political influences in play, having to do with presidential reelection, converting territories to states to compete for the Electoral College and Congressional representation, and extreme pressure to solve “the Indian problem” once and for all. The settlers were very nervous about a religious revival among the Plains Indians (look up the Ghost Dance).

- Benjamin Hotchkiss was not, in fact, my great-great-uncle, instead was a very distant cousin on a different branch of the family tree going back to the 1630's. This was a surprise but not much of a relief. My family name was still known as “Hotchkill” among survivors who told their stories after the massacre.

- The Army first used the Hotchkiss Mountain Gun against the Nez Perce, to break a stalemate at the battle of Bears Paw Mountains in 1877, thirteen years before Wounded Knee. Its first shell buried a mother and her daughter under a collapsing bank of soil.

- Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart, Hunkpapa Lakota, descendant of a Wounded Knee survivor, developed the theory of historical trauma, later called intergenerational trauma, and documented its effects. I viewed many of her lectures on Youtube, and found them very enlightening and helpful. It was very clear from her work that today's descendants carry strong echoes of the trauma inflicted on their ancestors.

No matter how distressed or agonized I felt about the moral effect of this great crime rolling down to my generation, that was as nothing next to the effect on the victims and survivors. Here was the demonstration of white privilege, in stark relief. Whole family lines among the Minneconjou and Hunkpapa Lakota were cut short. Hotchkisses survived and thrived, expanding our family tree in all directions, with a gun, a school, and a limousine named after us. There is no “fixing” that, no “white messiah” possible, although that did not prevent me from daydreaming about healing it all – everyone's pain - with the wave of a fantasized wealthy hand.

Although I made a couple or three attempts to connect with Lakota people who were leading the way to healing, in the spirit of being helpful if I could – no, let me be honest, it was in a desperate attempt to expiate my painful white guilt – after a couple of years of learning and praying and dreaming, I understood that I had a lot of my own contemplation and work to do, and so it would be enough if I were to simply hold this awareness within me for the remainder of my life. If the survivors and their descendants had to live with it, then so did I.

Contemplation kept circling back to this: it's all about the children. I read and learned about many ways the children died that day, and about some who miraculously survived. Courageous warriors rode unarmed, to and from the killing ground, taking as many children to safety as they could, until they themselves fell to the soldier's guns. Four infants were found alive the day after, protected from the bitter cold by the bodies of their mothers. At least one was adopted into a white officer's family.

I saw that children and innocents had been killed, not as an accident, but as a matter of policy fueled by white settlers' fear, white politicians' calculations and my European ancestors' insatiable hunger for conquering peoples with darker skins and different religions.

I entered this current decade in a moral and spiritual emergency. My family connection to Wounded Knee wasn't the only revelation that threw me off balance, but it led the way. If I were to honor the greatest values and principles of common human decency that I used to think all of us “Americans” grew up with, I needed to find ground to stand on.

…Please return for Part 2 of this blog, “I Have Good Work to Do”