Monday, November 4, 2013

Native American Reconciliation at Down Home Maine

by Saranne Taylor
Cheryl Schaufler and Arla Patch  (photo P. Gross)
Cheryl Schaufler, who is Native American, and Arla Patch, who is European American, presented a horrifying picture of the atrocities suffered by Native Americans during the last two and a half centuries. We may know these things, but such an eloquent reminder from Cheryl and Arla was both sobering and painful.

Arla and Cheryl’s work focuses on the Maine-Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was signed in June of 2012 at the State Capital. The Wabanaki are the five Nations comprising the Mi’kmaq, Maleseet, Passamaquody, Abenaki and Penobscot. As far as we know, this is the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to address Indian Child Welfare in the US.

The mandate of the TRC has 3 main goals:

TRUTH: document what has happened, and is happening to Wabanaki involved in the Maine Child Welfare system

HEALING: give everyone, Wabanaki especially, a voice to begin the healing process

CHANGE: make suggestions for the best Child Welfare practices with Wabanaki

Arla and Cheryl spoke about the “Cultural Genocide” of the Wabanaki people, which was authorized by the governments of the times. Phrases such as “The Indian people should be put into perpetual slavery” or “Capture and subdue the Saracens” were used by prominent people.

Thanks to the dedicated work of Cheryl and Arla, steps are being taken to heal the wounds, particularly those of the Indian children who were removed from their homes, families and tribes not only in the 1800’s, but as recently as 1984 when the last school was closed. Children were placed in boarding schools when they were as young as four or five years old, or, they were adopted by white parents. At school and during adoption, children were forbidden to speak their own language, dress in their own clothes or follow any of their tribal customs. Frequently they were physically and emotionally abused, which had tragic outcomes still observed today.

Despite this, the TRC is making headway in the healing process, and in Maine we can be proud that the TRC is the first of its kind in the US.

If you would like more information, or would like to know how to volunteer for the TRC, please write to:

Many thanks to Cheryl and Arla for this Down Home Maine presentation.

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