Blog: Voices of Decolonization



"THIS DAY IN HISTORY: MARCH 1, 1823-- Doctrine of Discovery Written into U.S. Law" 


March 1, 1823 marked the first day after the landmark Supreme Court case, Johnson v. McIntosh, which made the “Doctrine of Discovery” explicit in U.S. Law. In this landmark case, two men of European descent went to trial about land ownership, as one had acquired the land from the government and the other had gained land from a Native tribe. The Supreme Court determined that the basis for land titles was “discovery,” while also concluding that Natives only had the right to “occupancy” to land (without full title to their own land) while Europeans had the right to “discovery,” and therefore ownership. As a result of this decision, the Supreme court denied individuals permission to buy land from Native American tribes, and established that Native Americans only possessed a limited right of “occupancy” to their own land, without full title.

This decision also reframed the Doctrine of Discovery, which was originally established by the Catholic Church through the Papal Bulls of the 15th century. These Bulls stated, “Whatever lands you encounter that are not ruled by Christian rulers, those people are less than human and the land is yours for the taking,” in order that “The Catholic faith and Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread…that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” These documents created a foundation for non-indigenous communities to claim sovereignty over indigenous lands and territories, based on the notion that Native communities were not Christian, and thus not fully “human.”

The Doctrine of Discovery also provided justification for Christian European governments in subjugating, enslaving, and converting Native peoples. While there were an estimated 10 million+ Native Americans living in the land that is now the United States when Europeans first arrived in the 15th century, there were less than 300,000 Native Americans living in the United States by 1900. The realities of colonization, disease, violent conflict, broken treaties, land removal, boarding schools, and forced assimilation ravaged Native communities and continue to impact the Native American community today.

The Doctrine of Discovery continues to govern United States Law, and has been cited as recently as 2005, in the decision, City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y."

Strengthening Systems and Organizations ~ Wabanaki Restorative Justice



We have held two of three regional events focused on Wabanaki Restorative Justice. In November at the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and in January at the Wabanaki Center in Calais, we offered the presentation: "The System is Broken: Native Americans, Mass Incarceration, and Restorative Justice" to members of the Micmac, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy communities and partner organizations that serve Wabanaki people. We had wonderfully engaging discussions focused on how to embed restorative practices into tribal communities and have exciting next steps outlined. Restorative justice is a way of being that focuses on relationships and resolving harm. Restorative practices recognize and acknowledge harm caused by crime and acts of wrongdoing and provide a different way to deal with the harm that is caused. Instead of focusing solely on the individual that caused the harm and how best to punish that person, restorative justice is focused on the victim that was harmed, the impacted community and ways to make things right. It is justice that promotes healing. The last event will be held at Penobscot Nation in March. Each of these events help build capacity for restorative justice practices that benefit Wabanaki people and fosters connections that will provide much needed support as our work moves forward. We are excited to join the growing restorative justice community in Maine.

REACH participates in Grants for Change


Last summer Maine-Wabanaki REACH staff took part in Grants for Change, a unique participatory grant making and decision-making process sponsored by Maine Initiatives. This unique process engaged the broader Maine community and Maine-based nonprofit organizations who work to advance racial justice and equity in Maine communities.

Maine Initiatives set out to make general operating grants over the next three years to a cohort of ten organizations and to offer them training, capacity building and collective learning around issues of racial justice and equity.

REACH was excited to be part of the Grants for Change process; we submitted a grant proposal and several staff members participated as grant readers, evaluating grant applications from other nonprofits and submitting feedback.

Last month members of our REACH team participated in the first meeting of the Racial Justice Grantee Cohort. We were pleased to meet the folks we will be working so closely with as we build our organizational and collective capacity to advance racial justice in Maine.

The Grants for Change Cohort includes: In Her Presence, Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, Maine Inside Out, Maine-Wabanaki REACH, Mano en Mano, Martin Luther  King, Jr. Fellows, New Mainer’s Tenants’ Association, Raise-Op Housing Cooperative, Somali Bantu Mutual Assistance Association of Lewiston/Auburn and Tree Street Youth. These ten organizations will receive a $25,000 general operating grant over a three-year period.

This educational, networking and grant making process was a first for Maine Initiatives. We are grateful to them for their vision and innovation in creating this unique approach to making grants and creating community and look forward to our work together. 

Wabanaki Health, Wellness & Self-determination

The 3rd annual Wabanaki Wellness Gathering held at Motahkmikuk/ Indian Township this past October was a great success.  As with past wellness gatherings, we tapped into our own vast network of knowledge to learn and to connect with one another.  The theme for the gathering was “food is medicine ~ decolonizing our diets” and dozens of Wabanakiq and friends attended.

Passamaquoddy Elder Wayne Newell gave the opening prayer, followed by a guided meditation to start the gathering.  The rich collective knowledge in our tribal communities was made evident during a Community Sharing circle.

Those sharing updates of work and initiatives in tribal communities included Alivia Moore (Penobscot) Peoples’ Garden/ Apothecary and All Our Relations Thriving, Janet Lola (Passamaquoddy) Indian Township Food Pantry Garden Expansion, and Tim Shay (Penobscot) and Shiwa Noh of the Nibezun Earth Project. 

Presentations throughout the two-day gathering included “Rebuilding Cooperative Food and Medicine Systems” by Jonah Fertig of the Cooperative Development Institute; “Restoring Relations - Steps toward Decolonization” by Suzanne Greenlaw (Maliseet), and “Natural Medicines for Children” by Dr. Jus Crea Giammarino (Penobscot).

Other highlights of the gathering included “Demystifying Acudetox” - a demonstration of acupuncture detoxification, a form of acupuncture which helps curb anxiety, fight cravings, and improve sleep.  A dozen people volunteered to experience acudetox as part of the demonstration by Jeri Singer of the Pleasant Point Health Department.   An evening Shared Supper and drumming by Huntley Brook Singers and Spirit Circle brought community together to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day and to fundraise for the Indian Township Food Pantry. 

Tuesday afternoon was devoted to a medicine-making workshop with Dr. Jus Crea Giammarino. In preparation for cold and flu season, participants were guided in making elderberry cough syrup, plantain and spruce gum salve, and a cold/ flu tea blend.  Everyone was able to bring home medicines for themselves and for sharing.

Many thanks to everyone who helped make the gathering special, it was wonderful to connect, learn and celebrate together.  We are looking forward to our this year’s 4th annual Wabanaki Wellness Gathering! 

My phone rings. “Hello” I say, “This is Barbara.”

 By Barbara Kates



My phone rings.  “Hello” I say, “This is Barbara.” 

“Is this REACH – the people who teach about Indians?”, he asks. 

I take a breath. “Are you calling about the Maine-Wabanaki REACH Ally Workshops?  They are about the shared history of Wabanaki and Maine people, privilege, and ally work.”  “Yes, that’s it” he responds, “I just finished a book about white privilege and I need to understand more and need to know what happened here.”

This conversation is typical for REACH’s Maine community organizers.  People call us because something turned their heads: reading a book, attending a REACH presentation, seeing friends’ actions on Facebook, or participating in environmental advocacy.  They begin to see the link.  It is the link to how we became Americans with a particular world view and expectation. It is the link to our privilege and responsibility.

I encourage and support other non-Natives to follow the link and learn more about who we are and who we can be.  For workshops, we gather in groups of 10-30 people and share, watch films, consider history, remember events in our own lives, and look for the ally path. Sometimes it feels like we are treading water in the waves and after each wave goes over our heads we need to re-orient ourselves.  But reorient we do and I so love the end of the workshops, when we are done but many people hesitate, still staying in their seats. In that hesitation they recognize the responsibility to bring what they learned into their lives and relationships.  As one woman said quietly to me, “What will I tell my husband when I get home?”  And truly that is it. This work of understanding more and knowing what happened here changes our relationships – to each other and to the land and waters.

I am grateful for the many people who make that phone call or send that email and trust REACH’s process of learning together.

Movers and Shakers of Contemporary Wabanaki History

 By Maria Girouard


Riding the wave of excitement created by the Women's March in Washington, we would like to recognize movers and shakers of contemporary Wabanaki history.

Passamaquoddy women of Indian Township should be credited with creating the momentum for what eventually became the historic and precedent-setting Maine Indian Land Claims case.

In May 1964, when a local business man set out to build a road through land that he said he won in a poker game, several women of Indian Township stood up to him and asserted that the land was undoubtedly Passamaquoddy land. A sit-in to protect their land ensued. They blocked the road with a canoe and stopped any attempts for gravel, sand or lumber to be moved to the site. Their bold actions resulted in their eventual arrest.

Phyllis Sabattus, Pauline N. Stevens, Rita M. Ranco, and Delia R. Mitchell, four Passamaquoddy women from Indian Township, were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after "refusing to move from a sand pile at the site of a piece of disputed land at Princeton."

Their arrest and subsequent search for legal representation became the catalyst for the land claims that resulted in the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980.

Maine-Wabanaki REACH is committed to truth, healing, and change. One way that we achieve this is by educating about our collective history.

Join us in acknowledging the National Day of Racial Healing!


REACH is proud to be part of the WK Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Initiative and joins over 130 organizations from across the country in calling for a National Day of Racial Healing on January 17, 2017.

This Day marks the start of a year-long effort to advance racial healing in communities across the country in order to create an environment where all children can thrive.

Overall, in 2017, communities, organizations and individuals are being asked to:

  •  Proclaim a new narrative that refutes the ideology of a hierarchy of human value and replaces it with the scientifically  proven assertion that we are all descendants of one human ancestry endowed by our creator with the inalienable right to  life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
  •  Acknowledge that there are still deep racial divisions in America that must be overcome and healed; and
  •  Commit to engaging representatives from all racial, ethnic, religious and identity groups in genuine efforts to increase understanding, communication, caring and respect for one another and the perceived other.

We invite you to join us in recognizing the National Day of Racial Healing in your own way, within your family, community, workplace or place of worship.

This website link has more information and a suggested list of activities to get you started. Day of Racial Healing

Please comment on our facebook page and let us know how you plan to celebrate! 2017 the year of racial healing, let's start writing a history for our grandchildren that we can be proud of! REACH Facebook Page

#TheDayToHeal #DayOfRacialHealing #TRHT

Woliwon ~ Woliwoni ~ Walalin, Heartfelt Thanks

As 2016 comes to a close, we would like to take time to show our appreciation to all those who have contributed to truth, healing and change.  Maine-Wabanaki REACH thrives on wonderful support from our communities – hundreds of individuals donate their time, money, and other resources. 

Thank you all!  

At a recent ally workshop, we struggled, as we often do, with technology that is not working well.  One of the participants noticed and stepped in to our aide.  The result is a grant from the Charles G. Wright Endowment for Humanity to support the purchase of presentation equipment.  We are so grateful!

 The Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine awarded REACH the Hands of Peace Award.  The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association awarded REACH a blue ribbon for most informational display at the Common Ground Fair social and political action tents.  We are buoyed by such lovely recognition of our work.  Thank you!

The following organizations donated space for REACH events in 2016:

Arookstook Band of Micmacs; Blue Hill Public Library; Calais Free Library; Cary Library in Houlton; Cobscook Community Learning Center; Colby College; Families And Children Together; Foreside Community Church; Lubec Memorial Library; Midcoast Outreach and Peace Center; Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine; Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkmihkuk and Sipyaik; Penobscot Nation; Rockland Congregational Church; Turner Public Library in Presque Isle; Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Augusta; Unitarian Universalist Church Ellsworth; USM's Muskie School of Public Service; Volunteers of America – Bangor; and the Wabanaki Cultural Center in Calais.

We so appreciate your support for our work!

Wabanaki Health, Wellness & Self-Determination - Summer News 2016

Sipayik_4th_-_5th_Grade_kkihkan_-_Wanbanaki_Health_Wellness_Blog_piece_2.jpgREACH Wellness work leads with the premise that the solution to or wellness lies in our culture. We continue to put forth the idea of decolonization – or reclaiming traditional ways of knowing and being that were disrupted as a result of colonization.

When our homelands were colonized, it resulted in loss of territory and undermined traditional sustenance practices which served us exceedingly well for millennia. In addition to hunting and fishing, our ancestors practiced communal gardening, wild harvesting and gathering.

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History Impacts

Sunrise_in_Sipayik.jpgThe Wabanaki, or “People of the Dawn,” are the first people of the area known today as Northeastern New England and Maritime Canada. Historians claim that the Wabanaki have lived on this land for more than 12,000 years; oral history asserts they have been here since the beginning. They have always defined their richness by the health and balance of their people, their relationship with the land, and their ability to ensure the health and well-being of their people in practical ways.

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