Blog: Voices of Decolonization

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

 By Jeffrey Hotchkiss

sunrise_-_Jeffrey_Hotchkiss_.jpg

 

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

Benjamin

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

            where

            Spotted Elk

            is kneeling,

                        bent

                        over a broken child

Ben and I

Sit

            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

 wksketch_(002).jpg

April 2017

Awakening is hard

Imagine

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”

Wellness in Community: Speaking our Truths

By Maria Girouard, REACH Coordinator, Health, Wellness & Self-Determination

 Speak_The_Truth.jpg

I had the privilege of being part of a young Passamaquoddy woman’s final graduation project.  She focused her attention on the topic of racism and presented a variety of stories about racism inflicted against native peoples of her community. Some of these stories were written and read aloud.  Some were audio recorded and accompanied by a picture portfolio. One storyteller was a guest speaker - an Elder, dressed up and eager to share.

Stories are powerful in helping us to listen with our hearts. “Storytelling employs a different kind of listening.  The body releases, settles back, is more open and less anxious.  We take in the story before screening the content”  whereas with information that is “asserted or presented cognitively, we immediately engage a screening device to determine whether we agree or disagree.” [Kay Pranis, The Little Book of Circle Process: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking, Good Books, NY, NY, 2005]  As children ran around us and played, we heard stories about people's first memories of the sting of racism.  Most stories shared were memories from when they were just young children.  

The storytelling took place in a home.  I sat on a couch.  A little girl about four or five years old snuggled her way in between me and another adult, cuddling and petting a tiny puppy, and keeping quiet as the Elder recounted her story of being a little girl herself…. She and her sister had been excited, the Elder said.   A delivery truck had pulled up in their community of Sipayik - a small, remote community where not much ever happened.  They raced up to the parked truck to greet the man who sat in the driver's seat. She remembered that they had wanted to ask him questions.  As the eager girls smiled up at him, the driver rolled down his window and spit a mouthful of soggy, chewed up crackers into their face and hair.  He hollered with expletives at them to to get away from his truck and called them names that the Elder still remembers to this day.  She described how she and her sister sat the rest of the afternoon picking chewed up crackers from each others hair.

The little girl next to me on the couch held up the puppy for me to see.  She had a beautiful smile.  I couldn’t help but smile back.  I wondered what kind of person could spit crackers into the face of a little girl like that.

“It’s a feeling.  A tension you can just feel,” a woman described while holding her clenched fist in front of her stomach.  I knew what she meant.  There were stories shared about being watched, followed, confronted, and humiliated in local stores. Of being “in town” with a parent who was denied a haircut because they were a “dirty Indian.”  Even as small children unaware of the dynamics of race or racism, they still could feel the feelings.  Feelings of scorn, hatred, and disgust aimed at them or their loved ones, the confusion of not understanding why, and the reciprocating feelings of anger and quiet indignation.  

“It made me feel like everybody hated me.  It made me feel like I didn’t even want to go anywhere.”  On one of the audio recordings a young man described fights that were common place; how they all had to have each other’s backs because they knew how it felt to be attacked and they also knew they might be the ones needing help the next time. A photograph of the speaker was passed around as we listened to his recorded voice recount matter-of-factly tales of unfortunate violence.  I stared into his picture.  He looked tough but tired.

Amber Gabriel said that the reason she chose the topic of racism for her final project was because she sees racism happening everyday all around her, and she wanted people’s stories to be heard.   Like Maine-Wabanaki REACH, Gabriel understands the importance of speaking truth and holding space for difficult conversations.  Only by truths falling on compassionate ears will we be able to move toward healing and change. I commend her for her bravery in selecting her topic choice.  I hope we can continue to elevate the conversation about racial hurts and their impact on the psyches of our family, friends, neighbors, and communities.       

Amber Gabriel is a Passamaquoddy from Sipayik and a 2017 graduate of Wayfinder School Passages.

I Have Good Work to Do

By Jeffrey Hotchkiss, REACH Volunteer

 wksketch_(002).jpg

April 2017

Awakening is hard

Imagine

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”

Learning Together

By, Barbara Kates Maine-Wabanaki REACH Community Organizer

I am learning about decolonization- wondering what does decolonization mean for Wabanaki people; for me, as someone who is not Native; and for my community.  I realize pretty quickly that in order to decolonize myself and my community, I need to first understand colonization. What is the history and how does it thread through our economic, political, social, educational, religious, health, legal – well, pretty much all the systems we have.  This is going to take some time and I will need help.

Maine-Wabanaki REACH creates learning events and tools, and gathers people and resources to focus our attention on right here in Wabanakiland Maine.  In this process, hundreds of people participate, offer insight, share their experience, and suggest paths forward and further education. This is how we learn together.

You are invited to participate in developing REACH’s newest learning tool – currently known as the Interactive Learning Exercise.  This tool will be a structure for group learning, where everyone actively participates as we sit, walk, and/or talk through historical events of colonization of Wabanaki territory. We experience and witness the impacts of these events. Then we have circle time to reflect and share our experience. 

REACH needs the help of people to participate in this Interactive Learning Exercise to let us know what is working and what needs more attention.

How can you help?

OR

  • You can organize an event in your community. To organize one, you need to help us recruit 25-35 people who are willing to commit 90 minutes together.  We need four of those people to volunteer to read to the group.  We need a large accessible room and chairs where everyone can sit in a circle. 

If you want more information, contact Barbara@mainewabanakireach.org.

We have facilitated the Interactive Learning Exercise twice and already learned it has an impact on participants.  Non-Native people have told us “It’s eye opening” and “re-enacting the history of Native people in Maine made tangible events few of us knew a lot about and otherwise would not need to engage with beyond a surface level.” Wabanaki people have said that it was important to be part of people learning the history of what happened here. 

We know we have more work to do and are trying out variations each time we offer it.  We are creating a great tool to share. REACH will make it available on our website so any community can download the directions and script to experience and learn together about colonization.

Decolonizing Faith: Community Presentations and Workshops

By Maggie Edmondson, Winthrop Friends Meeting

Children_-_Kickapoo_Village_-_Blog_Pic.pngPicture shows children in Kickapoo Village, Oklahoma, circa 1980. Friends ran Indian day schools and boarding schools here in about 30 locations. Photo used with consent from "Towards Right Relationship with America's Native Peoples"                              

I am a Quaker, working with a small Interfaith Council on Decolonizing Faith.  We have recently offered a workshop on “Colonization and the Role of the Churches” with plans for future offerings.  As part of our work we have invited a Quaker, Paula Palmer to visit Maine and share her research into Quaker involvement in the Indian Boarding Schools, as a model for other religious groups to do similar work.  The Indian Boarding Schools had the express aim of “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” and were run by various religious groups.  Not only did they try to eradicate all traces of indigenous identity and culture, the children often suffered physical and sexual abuse – many died in the boarding schools.  Our churches were a part of the colonizing attitude of European Christian superiority which assumed a natural right to impose its values upon whatever land and peoples it encountered and to take what it wanted in the process.  The questions are “Who are we today?” “Who do we want to be?”  “Will we join in honest exploration of our churches’ roles in colonization of this land and its people?” “Will we seek ways to contribute to healing and building new relationship?”Every religion places an emphasis on truth and integrity.  As people of faith, something we have to face, is the truth of our churches’ involvement in the devastation of indigenous peoples.  It’s a wound and an injustice which calls first for honest acknowledgment that it happened and then for repentance, work toward healing, and building of new relationship.  We are in the Christian season of Lent when often the focus is on “giving up” something, but the Hebrew word “teshuvah” literally means “to turn”.  Once we were going this way, now we have decided to turn and go another way.   We are called “to turn” and “go another way” in our relationship with the native people of this land.  Our churches have work to do to look at the part we played for instance as Indian Agents, as directors of Indian Boarding Schools, and also to look at how our theology perpetuates a religion of empire and domination rather than a religion of equality and mutual respect.  

Penobscot woman, Maria Girouard speaks of the Seven Fires Prophecies within her native heritage.  The prophecies speak of eras through which native peoples were going to have to live, with each era being one of the “fires”.  The seventh fire speaks of a time when the world is physically and spiritually polluted, but beyond that there is a great hope prophesied, a time of great healing.  “Many” she says “believe we are entering the time of the great healing now, but the great healing is not a spectator sport.  It’s a critical call to action.  All peoples, of all races and religions must come together and work for the good of all.  And in order for any change or healing to take place the truth must be told, and received by compassionate ears.”

Paula Palmer’s presentation “Quaker Involvement in Indian Boarding Schools” is open to the public and is on Tuesday April 18, 7:00 p.m. at Jewett Hall, UMA.

Paula will lead an interactive workshop, “Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change,” on April 19 at 6:30 p.m. in Orono.  To register for this workshop, go to: This Link

Wabanaki Health and Wellness Celebrates their 20th Annual Spring Social

WHW_20th_Spring_Social_-_Resized.jpg

Since 1997, Wabanaki people from all over the State and the Maritimes have gathered each Spring to connect and celebrate being Wabanaki. The Annual Spring Social is sponsored by Wabanaki Health and Wellness, which was established to fill the unmet need for substance abuse, mental health and other supportive services to Native people who live in the greater urban area of Bangor. 

Wabanaki Health and Wellness has a long history of providing compassionate, culturally relevant services that support the health and well-being of Native people. The agency provides advocacy and case management services to children, families and adults as well as HIV AIDS testing, counseling and prevention education. Wabanaki Health and Wellness is staffed by experienced, dedicated and resourceful team of Native and non-Native people. Their offices in Bangor house the drop in center which provides computers and space for well-briety meetings, language instruction, cultural arts and crafts, and just for connecting with each other.

The desire and need for connection led the agency to host the first Spring Social in 1997. “We started the social primarily for our little intertribal community to join in prayer, share a meal, dance, sing and celebrate the New Year with each other” says Sharon Tomah, who is a founder and the Executive Director of Wabanaki Health and Wellness. That first year, the social was attended by about 40 people, including one drum group. This year, the Social Committee anticipates 700 people, with 8-10 drum groups expected, including some youth drum groups.

The Spring Social has become the largest intertribal gathering in Maine. Wabanaki and tribal community members enjoy a potluck meal complete with cultural favorites and lots of fry bread. The dancing and drumming begin after prayers for the community offered by Wabanaki elders in our first language. Masters of Ceremonies entertain and direct all the action, telling stories and reinforcing traditional values in messages for the community on topics such as caring for each other, healing, wellness, recovery and prevention.  Special dances and songs are performed to honor and acknowledge our veterans, elders, youth and leaders in community service.

Community groups and organizations set up health promotion tables to share information on topics such as prevention of diabetes, opiate addiction, domestic violence, HIV and Hepatitis C infections.  In addition, tribal members sell art, clothing and jewelry. The day is filled with song, dance and laughter as old friendships are rekindled and new friendships are formed.  The Spring Social is an important event in the larger Wabanaki community and is organized by a small group of agency staff and volunteers who raise enough money each year to pay for the venue, provide lodging and transportation for elders, honoraria for drum groups and paper goods and supplies for the meal.

To celebrate the theme for the Social this year, Welcoming Our People Home, Non-native foster families of Native children are invited to attend to provide this wonderful opportunity for Native children in foster care to experience and engage in their culture. There will be Wabanaki people paired with families who will serve as host to help families feel more welcome and at ease; families just need to check in at the Welcome table and they will meet their host.

There are very few spaces off reservation where Wabanaki people can gather and express culture freely. The importance of the Annual Spring Social is immeasurable but evident in the faces of the children, elders and adults as they sing, drum, dance and connect, reclaiming ancient rites of Spring.

This year, the Social is being held in a bigger location so the total cost has increased. The committee is working hard to raise the remaining funds. Making a donation is a wonderful way to support the health and wellness of Wabanaki people. Donations can be made directly to the agency at 157 Park St. Suite 5, Bangor, ME 04401 or here:  https://www.gofundme.com/wabanaki-spring-social-fundraiser

In Honor and Celebration of Sandy White Hawk

From REACH - With Love.

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We are proud to announce that Sandy White Hawk has been named the 2017 Champion for Native Children by the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA). 

NICWA describes Sandy as “an incredible leader in Indian Country who has made outstanding contributions to the well-being of children and families. Among her many accomplishments, she is the founder and director of First Nations Repatriation Institute and has become a spokesperson on the issues of adoption and the foster care system and how it has impacted First Nations people.”

In Maine, we know Sandy as a Commissioner for the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We have stood with her in prayer and sat with her in circles. We know her capacity to listen deeply, to share from her heart, to see the goodness in all people, accepting them where they are. We know her joyful laughter and her courage to stand in the midst of pain and hurt. We know her warmth and her advocacy.

This recognition is NICWA's highest honor and we join them in celebrating Sandy in this well-deserved award. 

Sandy was born on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. At the age of 18 months, she was adopted out to a white missionary family who believed that they would be helping a child to have a better life. Sandy tells us that, “this idea did not come from grace (a basic Christian concept), but rather a cruel assumption that Indian families did not have a religion and a spiritual belief system or a family system. All they saw was the poverty and alcoholism, compared it to their privileged life and came to the conclusion that they and their way of life was superior.”

Sandy followed a long life journey that eventually brought her back to her Lakota community at age 35. There she found her family, who not only remembered her, but had been waiting for her return. She found her people and her culture, participating in pow wows, ceremonies and social gatherings. She found herself, her spiritual center and healing from what she called the “cruelest form of abuse: the complete rejection of my natural spirit.”

Reconnecting made her realize she was not alone and in this, Sandy also discovered her purpose. She founded and is the Director of First Nations Repatriation Institute (FNRI), the first organization of its kind whose goal it is to create a resource for First Nations people impacted by foster care or adoption to enable them to return home, reconnect, and reclaim their identity.  The Institute also serves as a resource to enhance the knowledge and skills of practitioners who serve First Nations people.

Sandy organizes Truth Healing Reconciliation Community Forums that bring together adoptees/fostered individuals and their families and professionals with the goal to identify post adoption issues and to identify strategies that will prevent removal of First Nations children.  She has also initiated an ongoing support group for adoptees and birth relatives in the Twin Cities Area.

Sandy has become a spokesperson on the issues of the adoption and the foster care system and how it has impacted First Nations People. She has traveled worldwide sharing her inspirational story of healing. She has served as an Honorary Witness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools in Canada.

She is a contributing author to several publications - Outsiders Within: Writing on transracial adoption, Parenting as Adoptees, and The Kinship Parenting Toolbox.

Sandy was awarded the Women in Wellbriety Dana Tiger Award for Creating Change in Nations, named one of the Innovators in Color Lines Magazine, named one of the 50 Visionaries Who are Changing Your World, Utne Reader, 2008, named Outstanding Native Women Award from the University of Minnesota 2003 and was named one of the “50 Most Influential and Cool People” of Madison, WI, in Madison Magazine, November 2002.

While we are very proud of all Sandy has done, we are most proud to call her our friend, our relative, it is truly a blessing.

Wherever you are on April 4th, pause and know that Sandy is receiving this honor – on the very same day when we will pause in prayer all Native children. It is fitting that both of these sacred events will happen on the same day.

The National Day of Prayer for Native Children

 By Esther Anne, Co-Director Maine-Wabanaki REACH

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On April 4, 2017 at 10:30 in the morning, wherever you are, please pause for a few moments to focus on, reflect and pray for the health, safety, and well-being of Native children.

Your thoughts and prayers will join hundreds of others from the Indian child welfare professionals who will be gathered in prayer at the National Indian Child Welfare Association’s (NICWA) 35th Annual Protecting Our Children Conference in California. They have called upon tribal communities and their partners nationwide to join together to demonstrate their support for all Native children.

NICWA is a voice for American Indian children and families and the most comprehensive source of information on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978. The ICWA is a federal law that recognizes how crucial tribal connection is, provides extra protection for native children involved in State child welfare cases and views the tribe as that child’s third parent.

ICWA was passed in response to the high rates of native children that were being removed from their tribes and raised in non-native homes.  When this important law was passed in 1978, 25-35% of all American Indian/Alaskan Native children were removed from their homes by state child welfare and private adoption agencies. At that time, 85% of American Indian/Alaskan Native children removed were placed outside of their families and communities – even when fit and willing relatives were available.

The practice of forcibly assimilating native children into white culture has a long history in the United States. One such strategic effort was carried out through the Civilization Fund Act, which was passed in 1819 and provided resources to educate and civilize native children, leading to the creation of many boarding schools.

One of the most infamous was Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which operated from 1879-1918 and was created by Richard Henry Pratt, who saw it as his divine mission to forcibly remove over 10,000 native children from their homes and communities and take them hundreds and thousands of miles away. 

“A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” ~ Richard Henry Pratt   

The children were forbidden to speak their language, their hair was cut, their clothes were changed, and they were abused, emotionally, sexually and physically. Some of these children died while at Carlisle, others returned home once they became adults, unable to speak their language, participate in their culture and carrying trauma from what was done to them. Records show that 57 Wabanaki children were taken to Carlisle

Later, more government sanctioned strategies to forcibly assimilate native children into white culture were carried out by child welfare agencies. Most notably was the Indian Adoption Project, which was created and funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the US Children’s Bureau, administered by the Child Welfare League of America and operated between 1958 and 1967.

During this project, 395 Native American children were adopted by white families in Illinois, Indiana, New York, Massachusetts, Missouri, and other states in the East and Midwest. Approximately fifty public and private adoption agencies cooperated with the project and when it ended, the practice of removing native children continued into the 1970s with the Adoption Resource Exchange of North America, which placed an additional 255 native children.

ICWA was passed in response to these high rates of removal of native children. Compliance with ICWA has always been a challenge all across the Country. In Maine in 1999, the State Office of Child and Family Services participated in a pilot review of their child welfare program and were found to be out of compliance with ICWA. They reached out to each tribal child welfare department for help in designing and delivering a mandatory training to their 500 case workers. 

From the start, this tribal-state ICWA Workgroup was committed to best child welfare practice with Wabanaki children and families and recognized the need for case workers to understand not only the letter of the law, but the spirit and intent of the law as well.  It was important for case workers to learn the history of forced assimilation of native children to understand why ICWA is so crucial and necessary.

After the initial round of training sessions in 2000, the ICWA Workgroup stayed together to continue expanding and improving training, creating sound policy and building better relationships and, in 2008 decided to establish and implement a truth commission process focused on native child welfare.

In 2012, the mandate to create the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission was signed by Maine’s Governor and Chiefs from each of the 5 Wabanaki tribes. The Commission spent 27 months researching documents and gathering statements from 160 Wabanaki and non-native Mainers impacted by child welfare and released a report of findings and recommendations in June 2015.

Soon after, in August of 2015, the ICWA Workgroup was re-established and is committed to implementation of the Commission’s child welfare recommendations. Tribal and State child welfare partners meet to strengthen policy, relationship, and resources to support compliance with ICWA. The ICWA Workgroup believes in the spirit and intent of ICWA; believes that native children have a birthright to their tribe and community; and believes that connection to tribe and community is crucial to the well-being of native children and to the continued existence of tribes.

Please keep in mind the history of forced removal of native children that led to the passage of ICWA and the present day efforts to promote compliance with ICWA during this National Day of Prayer for Native Children.

LD 914: An Act to Establish Indigenous People’s Day

LD 914: An Act to Establish Indigenous People’s Day

By Penthea Burns & Diane Oltarzewski 

venezuelan-demonstrators-topple-columbus-statue_-_Cropped.jpg LD 914: An Act to Establish Indigenous People’s Day, sponsored by Representative Scott Hamann of South Portland with eight co-sponsors, is being heard by the Maine Legislature’s Committee on State and Local Government on Wednesday, March 22. Hearings begin at 9:00 AM, in room 214 of the Cross Office Building. We suspect that a vote will occur at the Committee’s work session, usually held a week after a hearing. If passed out of Committee, the bill will proceed to the House and the Senate for a vote. If passed by the legislature, it then moves onto the Governor who will either sign or veto the law.   

Many people will attend the legislative hearing to listen to testimony of the many who will speak to the merits of this bill. Folks who cannot attend will write or call their legislators to let them know what they think about the proposed legislation.

 Around the country, states and municipalities are questioning why we celebrate Christopher Columbus when his arrival marked the beginning of genocide of indigenous people.  Since 1990, South Dakota has celebrated Native American Day instead.  Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and Vermont have recently changed the holiday to Indigenous People’s Day.  Many municipalities, such as Minneapolis, St. Paul, Grand Rapids, Albuquerque, Alpina, Traverse City, Berkley, Santa Cruz, Seattle, Olympia, and Denver, are changing the celebration to honor and acknowledge Native people.  Several counties in Texas and Wisconsin have done the same. 

Belfast was the first jurisdiction in Maine to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day rather than Columbus Day on the second Monday of October.  Diane Oltarzewski led the effort to change the holiday in October.  In her presentation to the Belfast Town Council, Diane began by saying,

“I appreciate the opportunity to present this petition and to share with you what I’ve been learning this year. In two months since October 12, we’ve collected 252 signatures from Belfast residents. Let me begin with the facts:

  • Columbus never set foot on the North American continent, and very luckily so for the people who lived here in the 15th century.
  • Where he did land – principally Hispaniola – the native Taíno people were enslaved, converted or tortured, and ultimately completely wiped out. [One of our signers is originally from that island, and she spoke with bitter recognition of those events.]
  • The papal “Doctrine of Discovery” of 1452 sanctioned a power of eminent domain to all exploration carried out under the banner of Christ. Local no-how was courted only as long as it took to establish a durable beachhead; then so-called Christian values evaporated, and systematic and rapacious greed took over.
  • As scholars and teachers bring to light the true history, Columbus Day has come to symbolize only this pitiless inhumanity. [One mother of a fifth-grader told me that he’s come home wondering why it’s a holiday at all.]”

Diane grounded her presentation in this present day reality –

“The good news is that Wabanaki people in Maine have survived despite 500 years of encroachment and betrayal – their land and resources stolen, their culture cruelly mocked and suppressed, their children taken from them. The tribes are strengthening and renewing their culture today, and that’s something to celebrate! Though the Columbus holiday is only a symbol, it is a painful one that misrepresents history. In fact, no American child – native or non-native – should be expected to accept such a falsehood.” 

This action promotes decolonization by acknowledging that colonization of this land was done through acts of genocide, beginning with Christopher Columbus. Diane described the overwhelming agreement from fellow citizens when she sought signatures on a petition to bring to the Town Council, saying “most of the people whose signatures I present tonight were overwhelmingly enthusiastic – eager for this change to happen, and to happen here – especially our young people.” 

Diane pointed to the deterioration in tribal-state relations as an important reason to remove the reminder and minimization of trauma that is embodied in Columbus Day. She challenged us to commit ourselves to actively honoring “indigenous rights and freedoms – from sovereignty to sustenance fishing rights to cultural self-determination.” 

Diane closed her remarks to the town council in this way. “Our shared history demands that we relate to the tribes respectfully, as nation to nation. A celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day beginning in 2016 would be a very good signal to send at this time. You are all now the stewards of this sweet little riverbank, but let’s never forget who was here first. We the signatories would be pleased and proud if our town spoke up and let the world know what we value, and where we stand.” 

The petition to the Belfast Town Council was successful, resulting in October 10, 2016 being celebrated as the first Indigenous People’s Day in Belfast, Maine. 

While honoring Indigenous People’s Day rather than Columbus Day is more just and honorable, it is not the ultimate remedy. We can truly begin decolonization when we make different choices, such as, understanding the present day realities, listening to learn, repairing harms without inflicting more harm or burden on native people, surrendering our privilege and resisting the urge to be savior.