An education in the ways of the Wabanaki
Written by Matthew Stone
from Kennebec Journal
AUGUSTA -- Central Maine next week will get a four-day taste of Wabanaki cultures, customs and perspectives.
In the process, organizers of the event hope not only to spread awareness about Wabanaki people to a general audience, they're also hoping to strengthen relationships among the Wabanaki tribes of Maine.
The University of Maine at Augusta is hosting "Wabanaki Perspectives and Human Awareness," which runs Tuesday through Friday next week. Each day will feature a mix of discussion panels, presentations, demonstrations and hands-on activities.
"That's one of the explicit goals, for a non-Indian public to have a richer understanding and appreciation of the Wabanaki people," said John Dieffenbacher-Krall, executive director of the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission.
Wabanaki is an umbrella term that describes the people of five American Indian tribes focused in New England, Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes. The tribes include the Abenaki, Micmac, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot.
During one of the early sessions, presenters will discuss Wabanaki spirituality as they try to highlight how Wabanaki people view the world differently from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Americans.
"Our practice platform is really anywhere in and outside of structures," said Wayne Newell, a Passamaquoddy tribal elder and former tribal representative in the Maine Legislature. "Just presenting the way in which we tend to look at things, I think that's wholly missing and people just assume it's the same way they look at things."
A variety of tribal elders had a hand in planning the four-day event, Dieffenbacher-Krall said.
"They really thought that was important," he said of the spirituality presentation. "I think many non-Indians don't realize the well-developed spirituality Wabanaki have had for generations."
Other events geared to the general public include a session in which Native American veterans will reflect on their time performing military service, a discussion on tribal sovereignty, and a basketmaking demonstration by Molly Neptune Parker, president of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance.
"Diversity happens if there's some basic understanding of the people who are talking to each other," said Newell, who works full-time as bilingual education director at Indian Township School in Princeton. "That's what the week is about."
On Thursday, event organizers have arranged for more than 50 Wabanaki seventh-grade students to converge on the UMA campus. The students will take part in storytelling, drumming and other activities at night.
During the day, Wayne Mitchell, the Penobscot representative to the Maine Legislature, will show students around the State House and the Maine State Museum and explain the legislative process.
"Though they're all Wabanaki, there's not always that much mixing between Penobscots and Passamaquoddy and Micmac and Maliseet children," Dieffenbacher-Krall said. "We thought that would be important for them as an experience for youth, but also looking to the future."
That's when the current Wabanaki children will be leaders in the Wabanaki Confederacy, a coalition that stands up for Wabanaki interests in Canada and the United States.
"Having those relationships is helpful," Dieffenbacher-Krall said. "We find the Wabanaki often are better politically in accomplishing their goals when they're united."
For an event schedule, visit www.uma.edu or call an informational hotline, 621-3019.
Matthew Stone -- 623-3811, ext. 435
Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC)
13 Commissary Point Road, Trescott Township, ME 04652
Paul Thibeault, Managing Director: 207-271-7762