Blog: Voices of Decolonization

"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.

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.