Healing from Indian Child 'Takings' Is in the Telling

Article excerpt

There is no way to take back the past. But if Maine wants to ensure that it never, ever repeats its racist, oppressive treatment of American Indian families and communities, it must know what it did. Under the first truth and reconciliation commission in the United States to be jointly agreed upon by state and tribal leaders, Mainers will have the opportunity to listen to mothers whose children were taken to be assimilated into white culture, and to those children -- now adults -- who were forced to live with foster families that were sometimes emotionally, physically and sexually abusive.

In order for the members of Maine's five tribes to achieve some level of healing, it's important for everyone who had a relevant experience with the child welfare system over the past few decades to participate in the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Sharing what happened is essential if the commission is to comprehensively investigate and make suggestions for improvements. Also important is the willingness of Mainers not connected to the child welfare system to listen and learn.

The formation of the truth and reconciliation commission is the result of years of work on the part of a convening group comprising people from the state, several organizations and each of the Wabanaki communities: Aroostook Band of Micmacs, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkmikuk, Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik and the Penobscot Indian Nation. The convening group helped draft a mandate, which the chiefs and Gov. Paul LePage signed on June 29, to lay out the three-year-long truth and reconciliation process.

A selection panel is accepting nominations for commissioners until Oct. 1, when it will choose five who "are trusted by both tribal and state governments and their respective citizens," according to the mandate. The commissioners then will travel several days per month to reservations to listen to people's experiences, seek to understand why the experiences occurred and determine what needs to change. …