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