Gloria S. Duclos Convocation

Spotlighting Voices from our Community: Marissa Joly

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: Marissa Joly

Position/Connection with USM:

Alum '21

What band or tribe are you affiliated with and at what age did you become aware of your Native Heritage?

I am part of the Mi'gmaq tribe stemming from the Listuguj Reservation in Québec, Canada. Although I didn't grow up on the reservation where a lot of my extended family is from and currently live, it was at a very young age that I was introduced to my Native heritage. I grew up attending powwows every year and hearing my grandmother talk to her siblings in the language. However, I definitely wouldn't consider myself even close to being an expert on my heritage or language as I have much to learn.

How has maintaining your Native heritage enriched your life?

It has very much enriched my life. Growing up my immediate family would take me to visit the reservation at least once a year mainly for the annual Traditional Powwow. When I was younger I guess I didn't appreciate the place my culture had in my life as much as I do now. It wasn't until my grandmother and mother had passed away where I really leaned on my Native heritage for understanding and clarity within the spiritual practices and wisdom for support during those tough times in my life. Presently, it has a big influence on me and I know that it will always be a huge part in how I maneuver in this life and I definitely want it to be a part of my future children's and grandchildren’s lives as well.

Are you involved with your community? How do you stay active within your community?

I'm not really involved in the reservation community as much as I would like to be. It is just tough with the distance between where I reside and where the reservation is (about a 7 hour drive). However, I have tried to be involved within the Native community in the Southern Maine area as best as I can. Over the years while attending USM I have participated in a Decolonization Workshop at Bates College, a Youth Food Sovereignty Workshop at UMaine Presque Isle with Native teens from all over the country, helped get the Wabanaki languages courses offered at USM, and being a part of a land recognition committee for the new campus buildings in Portland. These were all very informative and appreciated experiences that I probably wouldn’t have been a part of if it wasn’t for NASA and the connections I have made through the group. I also did my degree internship at the Cutler Institute at USM Portland Campus doing graphic design work and photography for them. They specialize in working with the Foster Care system especially involving Native communities. I’m currently working on a Native based mural at Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland. I'm still trying to figure out what career path I will be going down post-graduation, but I know that I want to help out the Native community in some way whether it be within my career or within my personal time.

Specifically at USM, what was positive and what do you think could be improved to make Native experience better (student or employee)?

The dedication and welcoming of all who support Native students has definitely made a difference in connecting us together in the community that is present here. It's been great to find others who are in the same boat as me, trying to find a community here in Southern Maine and trying to be more in touch with our indigenous selves with learning more about everything that is involved in being a Wabanaki person. Like stated earlier, although I was introduced to my Native heritage at a young age I haven't had nearly as much exposure to it as others or as I would like to. I think that getting the word out there about NASA and the other offerings for Native students is important moving forward as well as having someone to facilitate those kinds of things. So far in my experience at USM it's been mainly us students who have been doing most of the work in building up and representing the Native community at USM which presents to be tough with all of the time we need to invest in finishing our degrees along with work and our personal lives.

Are there any resources you would like to share for people who would like to learn more?

Definitely Wabanaki REACH would be a great start in becoming connected and learning more, as well as at USM the student group NASA and the Capacity Building Center for Tribes in the Muskie School of Public Service on the Portland Campus would be other good sources to look into. I also think it's very important to acknowledge how USM offers a couple Native language courses in the Linguistic department; Abenaki as well as Passamaquoddy/Wolastoq. Language is sacred in preserving the culture and carrying forth what our ancestors had discovered during their time on this Earth and it is important to not let that get lost or forgotten.