When Katie Tomer was assigned to write a paper for her graduate level Governance and Democracy class, she knew exactly the topic she wanted to cover: Wabakani tribes and their struggle for self-governance.
For Tomer, a member of the Wabanaki community, it was a topic close to heart.
“It’s part of who I am. It’s in my bloodline. It’s not like a t-shirt that I can take off,” she said. “I’ve seen how lack of awareness of tribal sovereignty, lack of awareness of Wabanaki culture, values, and presence has affected my family and other Wabanaki community members.”
And Tomer, who will graduate later this year with a master’s degree in Policy, Planning and Management, thought exploring tribal-state relations and Wabanaki self-determination in Maine could provide valuable insight for public policy.
She was right. And she wasn’t the only one who realized it.
Tomer’s paper was published this fall by Maine Policy Review, a peer-reviewed journal on public policy in Maine. Published by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine, the nonpartisan journal is read by state legislators, community leaders, and others interested in public policy.
While it’s not unusual for a college student to be published in Maine Policy Review, their articles are usually co-authored by faculty. It is rare for a grad student — particularly one who isn’t in a PhD program — to present as sole author.
Tomer’s paper examines the failed efforts of the state and tribes to resolve tribal self-governance issues, and it points out that a lack of support for Wabanaki law studies has directly affected tribal-state relations and hampered Wabanaki self-determination in Maine. The paper looks at legislative proposals, current laws, and scholarly research and concludes that the state needs to work on building trust with the Wabanaki community and better educate all Mainers about the tribes.
”For me, this paper was for the Wabanaki people who came before me and the people who will come after me,” Tomer said.
The paper was originally written as a class assignment. Tomer never considered publishing it until Passamaquoddy scholar Gail Dana-Sacco encouraged her to.
“She said, ‘We need to have more Native people putting work out there that supports Native people,’” Tomer recalled. “But when she said this should get published, I was like, ‘Ooh! I don’t even have my master’s yet. What is this woman talking about?’ But she was very adamant.”
Maine Policy Review accepted the piece after a blind peer review process.
“It was exciting,” Tomer said. “For me, it didn’t even feel real.”
It was published in September.
Tomer graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Health Science from USM in 2018 and will receive her master’s at the end of this semester. She has worked as an academic advisor at USM.
After graduation, Tomer will work full time with the International Association for Human Values and will serve as a part-time instructor at USM. Long-term, she hopes to focus her efforts on supporting a stress free, violence free society that values all human beings.
She hopes her paper gets the attention of policymakers and is a first step toward that more balanced relationship between the state and Wabanaki governments.
“The article being published is so much bigger, so much bigger, than just a graduate student who published a paper,” she said.