Strengthening Engagement with the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians for Watershed Restoration and Environmental Justice

Wolastoq/St. John River. Photo: DL Earle/Pixabay

Institution: University of Maine
Sponsor: Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions

Raising awareness about the Houlton Band of Maliseet’s water quality, conservation and climate change work throughout the Meduxnekeag and larger Wolastoq/St. John watersheds. 

This partnership development project seeks to strengthen engagement between researchers and students at the University of Maine and staff of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians (HBMI) Natural Resources Department (NRD) through supporting the creation of a story map to communicate and raise awareness about the NRD’s water quality, conservation, and climate change work throughout the Meduxnekeag and larger Wolastoq/St. John watersheds. The purpose of the story map is to help communicate the NRD’s work to multiple audiences including: the tribal council of the HBMI, the larger HBMI community, their organizational partners across the Meduxnekeag watershed, and watershed communities that are connected to the Meduxnekeag River and its tributaries, such as farmers.

A key area where the NRD indicated they could use assistance stems from their lack of technical expertise for telling their story through digital media. One area of support this project offers is providing technical assistance and expertise geared toward sharing the work of the NRD using the story map platform.

This project is committed to justice-oriented and decolonizing approaches to the production of knowledge, including hiring a Wabanaki student to help co-lead work with the NRD, supporting Indigenous youth leadership, and creating collaborative projects that emphasize Indigenous capacity-building, intergenerational learning, and knowledge co-production. These are themes that NRD partners have identified as central to their work as a whole. Knowledge co-production is central to the project’s methodology and also led to identifying the priority of strengthening the connection with the NRD and supporting the development of this story map.

In the process of co-producing this project, researchers learned from NRD partners that they have an existing collaboration with representatives from the New England Office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who are leading a broader story map effort focused on climate change to document and share the work of tribal natural resource agencies throughout New England. Given this capacity for continued collaboration with both the HBMI as well as other tribal communities across New England, a main goal of this project is to strengthen collaboration between the NRD and UMaine partners and, over time, continue to build relationships with HBMI tribal citizens and community members within the Meduxnekeag and Wolastoq watersheds.

This project aims to practice reciprocity within research along the lines Kim TallBear (2014) describes, not as just a practice of giving back but of standing with partners in ongoing processes of relationship-building and learning. This also aligns with UMaine’s larger research values as they relate to work that intersects with Wabanaki Tribal Nations. The project is an example of work that serves to support the University’s goal to develop relationships with Wabanaki Tribal Nations and to extend commitments that were articulated as a part of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between UMaine and the Penobscot Nation.

Project Lead

  • Bridie McGreavy, Associate Professor, Communication and Journalism, and Mitchell Center Faculty Fellow, UMaine

Research Team

  • Darren Ranco, Associate Professor, Anthropology, Chair of Native American Programs, and Mitchell Center Faculty Fellow, UMaine
  • Michael Clay, Ph.D. student, Communication and Journalism, UMaine
  • Sharri Venno, Natural Resources Department, Houlton Band of Maliseeet Indians

Project Partners

  • Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Natural Resources Department staff: Susan Young, Matthew Edberg, Rhonda Smart, Angie Reed, Sam St. John