The REACH dragonfly has special meaning to our team and our work. Dragonflies
represent swiftness and activity; change and transformation; joy and happiness;
adaptability; and an invitation to dive deeper into feeling and understanding.
That describes perfectly our organization and our experience on this journey of decolonization. REACH is expanding and shifting in many exciting ways! We are happy to welcome Heather Augustine to our team as our new Maine Community Organizer, a position that has only ever been held by Barbara Kates. We are pleased that Barbara is not leaving us but has shifted her focus to volunteer roles within REACH. Heather and Barbara have been working together for the past month to ensure a smooth transition, which has given us some time to pause, reflect, and look forward.
In 2014, when Barbara Kates joined our team, REACH was focused on supporting the TRC process and her role was to engage and support non-native people in truth-telling. She recalls “I felt like a beginner in a lot of ways, which was exciting to be a beginner again at that time of my life. I had a very steep learning curve and was taking it step by step, hoping I did more good than harm.”
As this work continued, we soon realized that folks were more likely to speak to the TRC if they understood its importance and knew more about Wabanaki Maine shared history. REACH began providing educational programs in communities where non-Native statements were being given, including a day-long workshop to help people know how to be good allies. These workshops were well-received and there was lots of enthusiasm mounting. “Folks were ready to build a movement,” Barbara recalled, “Our idea of what we wanted to do just kept expanding and we were excitedly bringing this into the REACH meetings with very little attention to the fact that we were taking up more time and were centering non-Native activity into REACH.”
This time in REACH’s history marked an important transition in our cross-cultural work and was another opportunity for restorative practice; for truth, healing, and change. The Native folks in REACH had to bring this to the attention of the non-Native folks; our team had to remember our purpose and reevaluate how we engaged Maine communities. “We were blown away, because we had been so oblivious to it,” Barbara said, “We had the problem of us not noticing what we should have noticed. And then we also had the problem of this whole ally work, which was encouraging people to center themselves in the very work that it was. I’m the ally, I’m going to come into the middle of this situation and find a way to be helpful.”
The mission and heart of REACH has always been to support Wabanaki health, wellness and self-determination. Figuring out how to engage Maine communities in that work and being clear about expectations has been a welcome challenge. “We had been telling people in words what we wanted them to do, that your work is in your communities,” Barbara recalled. “We then had to redesign our day workshop so that it's really focused on understanding colonization in a personal way, through the privilege work, and then understanding that our work has to happen within our organizations and institutions to make change.”
REACH's work has and continues to evolve as we learn and grow together. We are grateful to Barbara for all the critical ways she has contributed to this work and to the richness of our team. She worked tirelessly developing the map exercise called Exploring Wabanaki/Maine History, engaging schools in learning, managing volunteers, and helping other non-Native folks really understand how to best serve native people. She explains it this way, “If we think of the allies in our lives, they are people who we’ve chosen, not who have chosen to put themselves in front of us; so we work in our own communities, and we remain ready if we’re asked to do ally work.”
Barbara will remain part of the REACH team as a volunteer facilitating events, developing and improving existing programs, mentoring and supporting new facilitators, and of course being available as a support to Heather as she takes over the position. “I am really thrilled that Heather has taken this on, she’s asking such great questions, things I hadn’t thought of at all; and she is so enthusiastic about the work,” Barbara said. “I think also having an Indigenous woman in this role is going to change it, and I’m really excited about that, to see where that goes.”
Heather Augustine is a member of the Elsipogtog First Nation Canada and lives in Brunswick ME with her four children. She has served as a therapeutic foster parent, a corrections officer, and as President of the Native student group at USM where she attended college. During the planning stages of the TRC, Heather participated in a REACH retreat that brought Wabanaki folks together to talk about child welfare and truth-telling. She recalls: “That was the first time I heard about the Indian Child Welfare Act; my dad is an Indian Residential School survivor, so that’s had a huge impact obviously on my life.”
Heather spent some time in Oakland, California working as a professional break dancer, it was there that she was introduced to the Intertribal Friendship House, an urban center for Native people to come together. She returned to Maine with the goal of creating such a space here. “It really took—I think almost 20 years for me to make that happen, I started working on bringing Native people in mid-coast and Southern Maine together just to share our stories, our culture, and our lives with one another” she continues, “I’ve been nurturing that community for almost two years now. We call it Mawita’nej First Nation Youth Group, it means 'where we gather.' This has been the joy of my life.”
Heather has been part of REACH's Decolonizing Faith work since last summer, developing and implementing curriculum and has spent the past month immersing herself in REACH programming. She has participated in Exploring Wabanaki/Maine History, read the TRC report, and viewed Dawnland. She shared what that has been like for her, “I’m slowly digesting a lot of the content, and it’s very sad. I’m trying to love myself all the way through it, it feels much different when you’re learning from the position of helping others heal from it.”
We are grateful to Barbara for all she has done to bring truth, healing, and change work to Maine communities and are equally grateful to have Heather ready to move this work forward. We agree with Heather when she says “coming to work with REACH has just been…probably like a dream come true, honestly.”