MARIA GIROUARD, Executive Director
Maria Girouard of Penobscot Nation is an historian with particular expertise in the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. She holds a master’s degree in history from the University of Maine. Maria is a longstanding community organizer and activist of environmental and social justice. She is a founder of The Peoples' Garden community garden at Penobscot Nation and dedicates many volunteer hours to community gardening. Maria is a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Maryann Hartman Award for her advocacy work on preserving the rights and cultural heritage of Penobscot Nation.
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.”
As a Maine Community Organizer, Tom Reynolds focuses on outreach and engagement in the non-Native communities in southern Maine. Tom has a strong background in organizing and advocacy on behalf of civil and human rights causes and campaigns, including marriage equality, protecting voter rights and health care access. His community outreach, education and advocacy have laid a strong foundation for improved outcomes in relation to laws and policies that impact people’s day-to-day lives. Tom lives in Lewiston has been the chair of a county political committee and a member of the statewide committee since 2010.
Erlene Paul, a Penobscot tribal citizen, holds a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Maine. She has over 35 years of management and administrative experience working in various capacities for the Penobscot Nation. For 20 of those years, she was the Human Services Director and was responsible for social services programming. Also during her tenure as Human Services Director, she was part of the original group that created and convened the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In her capacity as Administrative Director for REACH, she is helping to build the administrative structure, including the development of a grant management system and compilation of tribal data and other baseline information needed for submission of grants.
Since joining the team as the Wabanaki Wellness Coordinator, Brian Altvater would agree that there are so many wonderful things to be done. Brian has been working to promote health and wellness in Wabanaki communities before REACH came into existence. He has played a leadership role in his community, worked with the Schoodic River Keepers to restore the St Croix River, and provided cultural connection to Wabanaki people in Maine prisons.
When asked why he wanted to work with REACH, Brian says, “what REACH stands for – that’s how I live my life.” Knowing and trusting many people who are part of REACH, Brian had a sense that “if I came up with an idea – that it would be supported and embraced.” Brian plans to engage people in doing things together “just to have fun and help each other out. Help people however you can help them. Don’t just look after your own – look after the whole tribe. Over the past 60 years, I’ve built alliances, contacts with people I know from all over the place.”
“People are realizing that we all have to help one another, care for one another.” That is central to what Brian brings to REACH.
Sandra Bassett, Passamaquoddy, lives in Southern Maine and facilitates healing circles with native men and women in the prisons. She is a longtime volunteer in the corrections system, working with men, women and youth in prison and in re-entry programs; she feels it is an honor and a privilege to serve in this way. Sandra has been employed as a Direct Support Professional for Goodwill Industries for over fifteen years and graduated in May 2016 with an Associate’s degree in Business Administration.
Katie Tomer, Penobscot/Maliseet, facilitates healing circles with native men and women in the prisons. With her deep desire to serve the community, Katie's focus is on promoting health for people on the levels of the mind, body, and spirit. She is a full-time student at the University of Southern Maine pursuing a B.S. in Health Sciences. In addition to her responsibilities as a student, she facilitates the mindfulness group that is coordinated with the university's Health and Counseling Center. She is one of 100 students from all over the world chosen to attend an International Peace Conference in India in March, 2016.
Erika connects with individuals who want to contribute a new statement to the TRC archive or make changes to previously contributed statements. She was on the research staff for the TRC, and previously collaborated on research with the group that initiated the TRC. She has extensive training and experience in working with survivors of trauma to find a new sense of safety and a path toward healing and runs her own private mental health practice in midcoast Maine.