“We Welcome You”: Kulasihkulpon (Passamaquoddy/Maliseet); Pjila’si (Mi’kmaq); Kolάsihkawələpəna (Penobscot)

. . . . the four Maine Indian tribes are the Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy, known collectively as the Wabanaki, “People of the Dawnland.” Each community maintains its own tribal government, community schools, cultural center and each manages its respective lands and natural resources. Abbe Museum

No matter what issue that you try to deal with, we learn so much more from this process than just that one single issue and that one single question. So, for me, it [the truth and reconciliation commission] has changed my life. It has saved my life. It has changed my relationship with my children, with my community, with my family. And I’ll do it again in a heartbeat.

Denise Altvater, co-founder of the Maine-Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the Commission): “Healing US Divides Through Truth and Reconciliation Commissions” NPR, October 10, 2020.


For centuries, the United States government practiced “cultural genocide” against indigenous peoples by the forced removal of children; first through the Indian boarding school system, then through federal and state child welfare agencies. These actions devastated parents, denied children their traditions, cultures, language and identity, tore apart families and communities.

The state came with station wagons and took myself and my five sisters out of our home. They put all our belongings in garbage bags. My mother was away shopping. She wasn’t home, and we did not see her again for four years. So when they drove us away from the reservation, they drove me away from the only thing I’d known my whole life. And for four years, the foster parents tortured us, and the state left us there. Denise Altvater, “Healing,” NPR

From 2013 to 2015, the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the Commission) led a truth-seeking process “to uncover the truth about child-welfare practice with Maine’s Native people.” In the process state documents were reviewed, various Wabanaki communities visited and over 150 were interviewed.

We have heard the voices of the many who spoke with us and to remain quiet is to continue to perpetrate harms that must be known. Consider this report as a step toward refusing that silence and continuing this conversation, that will, we hope, like all the best communication, offer ample time for everyone to simply listen. Final Report of the Commission


Wabanaki REACH is a cross-cultural collaboration supporting the Commission, and implementing its recommendations: Wabanaki health; wellness; self determination and community building. REACH, “envisions and prepares for a future where Maine and Wabanaki people join together, acknowledging truth, promoting healing and creating change.” Wabanaki REACH

Two documentaries, First Light and Dawnland, explore the harsh realities and lasting effects of removing indigenous children from their families and communities through the lens of this truth and reconciliation commission.

First Light, a fifteen-minute award-winning short, documents these practices from the 1800s to today and tells the story of an unprecedented experiment in truth-telling and healing for Wabanaki people and child welfare workers in Maine.

Dawnland, a feature-length award -winning documentary, follows the Commission, witnessing “intimate, sacred moments of truth-telling and healing.” Also revealed is how the state continues to break up Wabanaki families:

Can they right this wrong and turn around a broken child welfare system? Dawnland foregrounds the immense challenges that this commission faces as they work toward truth, reconciliation, and the survival of all Indigenous peoples. Dawnland

Dawnland can be viewed on the PBS website until December 2, 2020 (It was aired in 2018 as part of the Independent Lens  series). Dawnland.org is a portal to the documentary, teacher’s guides, “compelling questions,” other documentaries, such as First Light, and additional resources.

Living at the easternmost edge of Turtle Island, the Wabanaki people are the first to see the new day’s light. If harmony and justice begin in the east, as some prophesize, surely the TRC is a sign of this beginning. Dawnland

An online screening of Dawnland and the short film Dear Georgina (a Passamaquoddy elder journeys into an unclear past to better understand herself and her cultural heritage) on December 8, 2020 will be followed by a live Q & A with filmmaker Adam Mazo; Upstander Project Learning Director, Mishy Lesser; Akomawt Educational Initiative’s endawnis Spears (Diné, Ojibwe, Chickasaw, Choctaw); professor and film producer N. Bruce Duthu (Houma), and special guests.

More information available here