Throughout the month of November the University of Southern Maine will be honoring and highlighting Native voices within our community. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni will be sharing their heritage and their story.
Name: Katie Tomer
Position/Connection with USM:
USM Alumni. Current MPPM Graduate Student. Former USM Academic Advisor.
Current USM Instructor for POP 101 SKY: The Practice of Happiness & Wellbeing
What band or tribe are you affiliated with and at what age did you become aware of your Native Heritage?
I am part Maliseet and Penobscot. One of my earliest memories of being aware that I was Native was at about 3 or 4 years old when I was watching and listening to my grandfather drum and sing traditional Penobscot songs for me.
How has maintaining your Native heritage enriched your life?
Remaining connected to my Native heritage has allowed me to experience being an integrated human being that remembers and honors the people that came before me, that understands the power of speaking Native language, that feels and expresses gratitude for nature, for the people in my life, for my ancestors, and for the life that I have been gifted with each day. Connection to my family and community also reminds me how important it is to leave this world better than I found it for those that will come after me.
Are you involved with your community? How do you stay active within your community?
I stay involved with my community by visiting with family, remaining connected to the work of Wabanaki REACH, staying in contact with other Native individuals in the southern Maine area, and more. Work I have done with Wabanaki REACH has included co-facilitating healing circles in Maine's prisons with incarcerated Native men and women, looking at how Wabanaki communities can be better supported, participating in volunteer activities that support Native cultural engagement, etc. I also make an effort to connect with and support current as well as former Native USM students.
Specifically at USM, what was positive and what do you think could be improved to make your experience as a Native student better?
It was positive for me to have a Native USM staff person that I connected with prior to my enrollment at USM as well as being able to frequently visit this staff person during my challenging first year as an undergraduate student. I credit this Native staff person's presence at USM as being a crucial factor in me getting to USM as a student, making it through my first year as an undergraduate and then continuing onto my sophomore year and beyond. It was huge for me to have a Native staff person to connect with and talk to because there were things that she understood that did not need to be spoken. She was also an incredible source of encouragement for me and I looked to her as a valuable elder in my life. The foundational connection I formed with her was critical in the rough early transition period of pursuing my degree. When she was no longer working at USM, it was a massive blow to me personally and to other Native students because no other Native staff person was hired to fill her shoes for a number of years.
After years of advocacy, USM has finally hired a Native Coordinator, Jared Lank. This hire is an important first step in making USM a more welcoming environment for Wabanaki people and any Indigenous student that is looking to pursue a degree at USM.
In terms of what could make things better at USM for Native students, I have a number of recommendations. Here are some of them just to name a few: Providing infrastructure support to the new Native Coordinator so he can give as much time and energy as possible to Native student needs, Providing Native students with multiple opportunities to meet and build connections with other Native students, Hiring more Native staff and faculty so Native students have Native mentors at the university (paying special attention to hiring full time Wabanaki faculty members since there are currently none at USM), Providing Native students with access to jobs or internships that have some kind of tribal connection and reciprocal relationship that support their goals as well as the Tribes. Another recommendation would be having a Native student orientation every Fall and Spring. In what I have shared, I think the most important starting points to make things better for Native students at USM would be to directly support the new Native Coordinator’s vision and efforts. Jared Lank’s work is encouraging USM to become a welcoming place for Native people and to have USM be an institution that uplifts the presence and voice of Native people.
Are there any resources you would like to share for people who would like to learn more?
Resources to learn more:
Ways to support and/or get involved:
For Native people: