On June 29, 2012, five Wabanaki Chiefs and Governor Paul LePage signed a Mandate commencing the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission process, a collaborative effort to examine what has happened, what is happening, and what needs to happen regarding Maine child welfare practices affecting Wabanaki people. The public signing ceremony represents a historic agreement between Wabanaki Tribal Governments and the State of Maine to uncover and acknowledge the truth, create opportunities to heal and learn from the truth, and collaborate to operate the best child welfare system possible for Wabanaki children, a goal shared by all the signatories to the Mandate.
Governor LePage declared, “I am happy we are able to take this next step to continue this important effort. I see this Commission as a critical step to improve relations between the State and the Tribes.”
The first truth and reconciliation effort within US territory collaboratively developed between Indian nations and a state government, the idea for the Tribal-State TRC originated within a Truth and Reconciliation Convening Group representing Maine Tribal Child Welfare, Maine State DHHS Office of Child and Family Services, and staff from the Muskie School of Public Service, American Friends Service Committee, and Wabanaki Mental Health Associates. Last year all five Wabanaki Tribal Governments and Governor LePage signed the Declaration of Intent to undertake the TRC. Today’s signing ceremony fulfills that May 24, 2011 commitment.
Chief Francis stated, “The TRC process stands out as a model of collaboration that can be replicated not only in other areas of Wabanaki-Maine relations, but between tribes and states across the country that are dealing with ICWA issues. One of the most distinct aspects of this initiative is that there is no shame and blame, but just people from the Tribes and the State who are committed to making sure this never happens again.”
Wabanaki and State representatives have been collaborating for more than a decade, which has and will continue to improve the child welfare system for Wabanaki children. In spite of this progress, Maine’s child welfare history continues to impact Wabanaki children and families today. The governments have come to realize that they must unearth the story of Wabanaki people’s experiences in order to fully uphold the spirit, letter and intent of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in a way that is consistent with the law and promotes healing.
The TRC has three key purposes: 1) to create a common understanding between the Wabanaki and the State of Maine concerning what happened and is happening to Wabanaki children in the child welfare system; 2) to act on the information revealed during the TRC to implement systems change to improve the system and better support the children and families served; and 3) to promote healing both among Wabanaki children and their families and the people who administered a system widely acknowledged to be less than ideal.
Next steps will include the seating of a 13-member Selection Panel who will choose the five TRC Commissioners, selecting the members of the TRC, the TRC organizing itself, and the Commission securing additional funding. Throughout the process Wabanaki Community Groups led by community members will provide support and a local point of contact for all Wabanaki people who become involved in the TRC process.
For more information, you can go the TRC website – http://www.mainewabanakitrc.org/ or facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/MaineWabanakiStateChildWelfareTRC.
As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission unfolds, members of the Wabanaki communities anticipate the uncovering of the truth with optimism and with trepidation. The historical trauma endured by Wabanaki people has left a legacy of loss and unresolved hurts. The goals of the TRC are to improve current child welfare practice and to realize healing in Wabanaki communities. This grant will support the development of community awareness, networks of support and engagment in the TRC process in the Wabanaki communities. Muskie staff will work with Maine and Wabanaki community organizations to engage community members to increase awareness and identify participants in the TRC, assuring that this occurs in a manner that is respectful of the community and the culture.