Maine Memo — November 16

Greetings to the University of Maine and University of Maine at Machias communities.

November is Native American Heritage Month — which is centered on honoring First Peoples, past and present, as well as confronting racism and creating positive paths forward.

Today, about 8,400 Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Mi’kmaq (Micmac), Penawahpskewi (Penobscot), and Peskotomuhkati (Passamaquoddy) — collectively Wabanaki, or “People of the Dawnland” — live on land now called Maine.

Both UMaine and UMM are on land of First Peoples; UMM is on the land of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and UMaine is on Marsh Island in the homeland of the Penobscot Nation.

Earlier this month, Penobscot leaders were joined by other members of the university community at the Penobscot Nation flag-raising on The Mall at UMaine. “To have the Penobscot Nation flag flying on Marsh Island can never be understated, as it is a critical part of our Homeland,” says Darren Ranco, associate professor of anthropology and chair of Native American Programs. “Now, to see it with our signs in the Penobscot language across campus, truly reorients and educates our community to the ongoing and historical legacies of land the University of Maine sits on.”

I urge everyone to take time this month to learn about the Wabanaki and their deep history with UMaine and UMM. Here are several opportunities:

  • UMM Art Gallery has an exhibit of petroglyphs in Machias Bay curated by museum management students. And it has petroglyph surface casts made under the direction of Passamaquoddy tribal historian Donald Soctomah, and baskets made by Passamaquoddy, Penobscot and Micmac artisans. Merrill Library has recommended books in honor of Native American Heritage Month for readers of all ages.
  • Dr. Ranco, John Bear Mitchell and Dr. Margo Lukens will unpack “What does Decolonization Mean?” at noon Nov. 18. They’ll discuss centering Indigenous cultures, places, and people in the modern university and highlight ways that’s being done at UMaine.
  • Dr. Ranco and Nolan Altvater will talk about “Confronting Racism: Historical Reckonings and Contemporary Reforms” 4-5 p.m. Nov. 30. They will link historical and ongoing issues and impacts of colonialism and the Doctrine of Discovery on Native People in Maine. And they will share work to combat those legacies through research and other actions at UMaine.
  • The Hudson Museum has a number of online directories, offerings, and exhibits, including a tour of the Maine Indian Gallery and videos with Wabanaki artists.
  • And PBS is offering free screenings of the Emmy Award-winning “Dawnland,” in which Native families share with the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission the pain and devastation caused by the state’s systematic removal of Native children from their homes and placement with white families.

I found the documentary “Dawnland” to be troubling, and deeply moving. I learned a great deal by viewing it.

The President’s Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that I established in July is engaged in these types of discussions and is focusing its work on looking at structural barriers to diversity, equity and inclusion. I look forward to receiving the Council’s first set of recommendations in early December as an actionable path to creating an open dialogue for expanding our discussions.

It is critical that the discussions we have and the growing understanding we develop this month and beyond become central in all of our discussions of diversity, equity and inclusion at UMaine and UMM, and result in meaningful progress.


Joan Ferrini-Mundy