Roundtable 2: Wabanaki Studies Commission, Report, and Discussion

Hosted by Northeast Historic Film with support from the Maine Humanities Council, August 7, 2003.

  • James Francis, staff person for Wabanaki Studies Commission
  • Donna Loring, Penobscot Indian Nation representative to Maine State Legislature
  • Diana Scully, executive director of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission
  • Maureen Smith, director of the Native American Studies Program at the University of Maine, Orono, a member of the Wabanaki Studies Commission

Donna Loring sponsored the bill in the Maine Legislature, LD291, An Act Requiring Teaching of Maine Native American History and Culture in Maine’s Schools. Read the law online.

It took over a year to get it passed and followed a campaign to change geographical names that are offensive such as “squaw.” During committee hearings it was clear that people didn’t know our history. Communication and education leads to understanding. Many Maine names are Native American: Androscoggin, Sagadahoc, Aroostook. Judy Lucarelli, the deputy commissioner of education worked on the bill. Eventually there was unanimous approval. LD291 is the most in-depth bill in the country on teaching Indian History.

Diana Scully, executive director of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission. The Tribal State Commission came into play in how to get the bill through the Legislature. There could be no appropriations; the Tribal State Commission would provide staffing. The Department of Education and the University of Maine would participate. A report from the Wabanaki Studies Commission is due in September 2003. There is a “Wabanaki Studies Commission’s Concentrated Area of Study” document.

Maureen Smith, director of the Native American Studies Program at the University of Maine, Orono, a member of the Commission. There are many unique aspects to Maine. Defining the curriculum is the biggest challenge. Maine has four different tribal groups. Wabanaki history comprises 12,000 years, two countries—not just Maine but Canada. As Native people we have been written about without our input. The content is very personal; there is not a lot of research to date. Whatever is published becomes “The Content.” There isn’t a lot of curriculum developed already.

It is important to present information in a way that’s culturally appropriate. Not having enough money for curriculum development is a challenge. Several professors have their students preparing lesson plans. In June there was a teacher institute in Orono with 28 participants, given by Wabanaki scholars. It was free to participants; participants developed lesson plans. We would like to have an annual teacher institute. The Commission needs to continue in some form. Would also want regional in-service teacher workshops. Would like to work with College of Education. We need a newsletter; not all teachers know about LD291. Need to get more people involved. Intellectual property is really central. We must honor intellectual and cultural property.

James Francis, Wabanaki Studies Commission. When the law was passed I was at the University of Maine studying history and Native American studies. When I was growing up I was taught culturally on the reservation. It’s been an honor to work with the Commission.

Discussion:

Mandie Victor: What grade level are these studies? Before 8th grade?

Maureen Smith: Some schools teach Maine Studies at the high school level. The Commission hopes to develop a spiral curriculum for all levels.

Donna Loring: We are sensitive about not dictating to teachers what to teach. We want teachers to get Native Studies in whenever they can, for example in economics, teaching tribal economics.

Mandie Victor: Will this be a part of the MEAs? Are there benchmarks?

Donna Loring: The Maine Learning Results refer to Maine Indian History.

Maureen Smith: We want to get the subject into the MEA. Assessment seems to be driving education. Bette Manchester: The MLTI has been holding regional content meetings. It would be marvelous to include Native Studies. Who do we contact to participate in these meetings? We can include Native Studies content in www.mainelearns.org. Also, we could have First Class email conferences for all teachers where we post documents. We need to do this in digital form. We should have Regional Integration Mentors focus on Native Studies.

Jim Henderson: What does culturally appropriate mean?

Diana Scully: Culturally appropriate is about respect and understanding.

Mark Neumann: In Roundtable II we have been dealing with the MLTI finding resources and documents. Has it been difficult to find films, photographs and sound recordings

James Francis: The biggest problem is finding good resources. Many things have some good elements, and also not good ones. I am working on the Frank Speck Collection digitizing Penobscot Indian Nation images so that tribal members can see images that have been in Philadelphia for 60 or 70 years. I am doing the Speck Collection digitization in my spare time on my own equipment. There is film here, at Northeast Historic Film, from the Nicholas Smith Collection, of Indian Island in the 1950s. Excerpts could be used on laptops and on the Web. With today’s technology you can digitize it and make it available. It takes time and money.

Maureen Smith: A project was interviewing elders at Pleasant Point. It requires teachers to be sensitive to cultural issues. In-service training is critical and needs to be planned in.