Truth and Reconciliation- Part Two

Joy Hollowell

Updated 2 years ago

It’s being called the nation’s first truth and reconciliation commission to address child welfare and native people.The five members were sworn in Tuesday morning, during a ceremony in Hermon.Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, gkisedtanamoogk, a Wampanoag from the community of Mashpee located on Cape Code, Dr. Gail Werrbach, a professor of social services at the University of Maine, Sandra White Hawk, a Sicangu Lakota adoptee from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, and Carl Wishcamper, who served as Chair of the Maine State Board of Education, make up the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.For the next two years, they’ll conduct interviews with those involved in the Native American child welfare system. The commission will spend two to three months with each of the five Wabanaki tribes in Maine, as well as talking with judges, lawyers, foster parents and police.The three purposes of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission are to document what happened to Native children in the foster system, allow for healing, and make recommendations for change.Joy Hollowell has been taking a closer look at what led up to this historical day in Maine.+++++”We have a code of silence, like many communities do, about things that have happened. And what this process is doing, is it’s really challenging that dominate narrative that it’s best to leave the past in the past.”Esther Attean has been the lead staffer in the process to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She says to understand why, first, you need to understand the history of Wabanaki children. The timeline starts in the late 1800′s.”The federal government mandated that all Native children attend a boarding school under the age of 16.”The idea, says Attean, was to rid these kids of their savage beliefs and customs. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania was attended by many Wabanaki children, mostly from the Penobscot Nation. In the late 1950′s, the federal Indian Adoption Project was launched.”Which took hundreds of native children from their homes to be adopted by white families to prove that Indian children were better off being raised in white homes,” explains Attean. “It was actually an experiment, a failed experiment. And those policies filtered into the child welfare system in our country, where Native children were removed at a far higher rate than non-Native cultures.”In 1978, the federal government recognized those trends and established the Indian Child Welfare Act.”That codified higher standards of protection for Native children involved in state child welfare systems,” says Attean. “In the late 90′s, 1999 specifically, the state of Maine received less than exemplary scores.”According to Attean, the state reached out to tribal welfare workers and a training program was developed.”In 2008, we had developed a better relationship between the tribes and states, things were going well,” says Attean. “But the tribal welfare workers would report that they still hit this, they called it the invisible wall, that they could only get so far with state case workers. And we realized that we had tried to forge this relationship and move forward together, without really ever going back to really talk about what had happened.”That’s when the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission came about.”There has not been an official truth commission in the United States that has dealt with Native child welfare issues,” Attean says. “There hasn’t been a truth and reconciliation commission process that has been developed at a grassroots level between tribal members and the state.”In 2011, Governor Paul Lepage and the five Wabanaki chiefs signed a letter of intent, followed by a mandate document last year.”Taking the passion that we have for justice and the well-being of children and bringing it from our heads down to our hearts,” explains Attean. “There’s no more us and them, this is going to be we, together.”===To date, the Andrus Family Fund along with private citizen donations are supporting the work of the TRC A grant proposal has been submitted to the Kellogg Foundation to support the full function of the Commission.For more information about the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission, log onto www.mainetribaltrc.org


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