The Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The 5 commissioners of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The 5 commissioners of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Denise Altvater, leader in creating TRC- Portrait by Robert Shetterly

Denise Altvater, leader in creating TRC- Portrait by Robert Shetterly

Summary

In 1999 the federal government pointed a finger at Maine and other states for noncompliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). In response Maine formed the ICWA Work Group, which later became the TRC Convening Group and finally Maine-Wabanaki REACH. After years of meetings and challenging conversations, its members pushed the tribal representatives and governor of Maine to establish a truth and reconciliation commission. The mandate to create the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission was signed in 2012. The commission’s work began in 2013 to discover what happened to Wabanaki families in the child welfare system, recommend improvements, and illuminate the path toward healing and cooperation. The commission placed decolonization at the heart of its process of reconciliation and introduced a new approach to healing for generations of Native people suffering from historical trauma. In its final report the commission states that from 2002 to 2013 Native children in Maine entered foster care at more than five times the rate of non-Native children, and affirms that this is evidence of underlying racism and continued cultural genocide. The experience of the commission shows how walking through fear and telling the truth can begin to repair broken hearts and shattered relationships harmed by centuries of abuse. 

compelling question

What is the role of a truth and reconciliation commission in addressing historical wounds? 

SourceS

EXCERPT

Beyond The Mandate Continuing the Conversation: Report of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission

PDF | DOC

HANDOUT

PDF | DOC

QuestionS & ActivitieS

  1. Read the excerpt from Beyond the Mandate. Explain what you think the Commissioners mean by this statement at the end of the text: “Without the evocation of root issues and the naming of both past harms and hopes for what’s to come, practical suggestions for change may remedy certain problems while leaving the hardest ones unresolved.”
  2. Consider the following data: The average age at death of Wabanaki people
    is 54, compared to 79 for the general U.S. population. In 2010 unemployment for Wabanaki people in Maine averaged more than 20%, [1] which is three to four times higher than the state as a whole. Use this data to help explain the existence of historical trauma among Wabanaki people and the pressing need for the commission.
  3. Do a close reading of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1948. Pay special attention to Article 2, sections (b) and (e), and write an essay about whether you think these provisions apply to what Wabanaki communities have faced in Maine.

[1] 2013 American Indian Population and Labor Force Report, U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of the Secretary Office of the Assistant Secretary—Indian Affairs, January 16, 2014, 33.