Counselor Education

USM students looking for healing for Maine's First Nation population

Joe and Dorice Presenting

Despite hundreds of years of hostility and neglect towards Maine's First Nation people, a pair of USM graduate students find reason for hope and healing.

Joe McLaughlin and Dorice Timko — students in the Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling Program — have each spent time working with members of Wabanaki tribes in Washington County. They've seen the effects of poverty, drug addiction and history.

"It's a horrible history," Timko told attendees at their presentation to the annual conference of the National Association for Rural Mental Health in Portland. "We chose to look another way."

They titled their presentation, the only student presentation at the June conference, "The Great Healing."

It's named after a First Nation prophesy that predicts a restoration following a bleak era "when the rivers and the waters run bitter with disrespect and the fish become poison," according to Penobscot member Maria Girouard.

"So much healing is needed," said McLaughlin, a member of the Passamaquaoddy tribe. "We're still picking up the pieces."

Joe McLaughlin

He and Timko produced a five-page handout that listed many of the historical events in this region, from the 90 percent population decline suffered between 1616 to 1619 due to war and disease to the 1755 living-or-dead bounty placed on First Nation people.

The history goes on and on.

In the late 1800s, thousands of Native children were removed from their families and taken to residential schools, where their cultures were abolished. Too often, the children suffered abuse and even death.

The schools lasted into the 20th century. First Nations people were denied the vote in federal elections until 1954. Maine didn't open its state and local elections to Native people until 1967.

The scars remain with every clan and tribe, McLaughlin said. They are battling addiction and depression and many other challenges.

"It is really scary to me, being a family man and a clinician," said McLaughlin, who currently serves as the director of the Sipayik Boys & Girl's Club, working with Native youth in the small town of Perry. His work was recently profiled in a YouTube video produced by Walgreens.

"There are so many young people affected by intergenerational trauma," he said.

In Maine, many of today's First Nations adults were raised in foster homes, something that was examined by the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The commission's work — to uncover and acknowledge the truth about what happened to Wabanaki children and families involved with the Maine child welfare system — continues. A report was issued in 2015 and led to the creation of Maine-Wabanaki REACH. Part of its charge is change and healing.

Helping is the aim of both Timko and McLaughlin, both of whom hope to use their degrees to become licensed counselors. Both expect to receive their diplomas before the end of the summer.

As a trained ally of the tribes, Timko is working to help where she can.

"It is our problem because we all have to stay in the same environment together," Timko said.