What is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission?
- A TRC is a group of people chosen to investigate a problem and make suggestions about how to make the problem better.
- This TRC is focusing on what happened to Wabanaki people involved with the Maine child welfare system.
What are the goals of this TRC?
There are three goals:
- To find out and write down what happened
- To give Wabanaki people a place to share their stories and have a voice
- To give the Maine child welfare system suggestions on how it can work better with Wabanaki people
Why have a TRC on Wabanaki people and child welfare?
- The United States government has tried many different ways to solve what they called “the Indian problem” - stealing land, killing off entire tribes by war and disease and by taking Indian children away from their families and communities.
- In the 1800’s, different church groups with the support of the government took Indian children and sent them to boarding schools far away from their communities where they couldn’t speak their own language, wear their own clothes or practice their own religion. They also treated Indian children badly, abusing them physically, emotionally and sexually. Many of these children died. The ones who made it home after years in these schools were not the same as when they left.
- In the 1950’s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America did an experiment where they took hundreds of Indian children from their families to raise them in white homes, thinking it was better for them.
- In Maine, Indian children were taken from their families and placed in white foster homes at a higher rate than most other states.
- In 1978, the federal government passed a law called the Indian Child Welfare Act that gave Indian children more protection and recognized a child’s tribal citizenship is as important as their family relationship. Maine child welfare has been working with Wabanaki tribes to have an improved relationship and to work better with Wabanaki people. A lot of progress has been made, but there are still some problems. This TRC will identify the problems and make suggestions to help fix these problems.
What will this TRC process look like?
- The TRC will be made up of five people. They will spend a few months in each tribal community learning the history, getting to know people and their ways of doing things, and listening to people’s stories about what happened to them with Maine child welfare.
- The TRC will also hear stories from some of the people who worked for programs that were involved in Indian child welfare.
- The TRC will write a report that includes all the information they have gathered (the truth) and suggestions for how the Maine child welfare system can work better with Wabanaki people (the reconciliation or understanding).
What will be hard about this process?
- It will be hard for people to tell their stories because many of these stories are painful to remember. Whether it is a mother who had children taken away, the children who were taken away or other family and friends who were affected by the child welfare system, these stories will not be easy to tell or easy to hear. There is a lot of shame around being involved in the child welfare system and not many people have shared their stories before. There will also be stories about survival and strength.
Who is involved?
- The Convening Group is made up of child welfare staff from all the tribes and the State. There are three people who are paid to work on the TRC planning.
How can I get involved?
There are many ways you can support the TRC in your community.
- Ways for tribal members to help:
- Spread the word! Talk to your family, friends and co-workers about the TRC process, help educate tribal leaders and community members.
- Be a member of the TRC Community Group in your area. There is a group in each tribal community and one for Wabanaki Mental Health in Bangor.
- Share your story with the TRC.
- Ways for Maine citizens to help:
- Spread the word! ‚Äì talk to your family, friends and co-workers about the TRC process, help educate town leaders, civic organizations, and your community members.
- Host an educational awareness event in your community. Members of the Convening Group are willing and often available to give presentations on the work of the TRC. Contact TRC Staff.
- If you were involved in the delivery of state child welfare services to Wabanaki children and families, share your story with the TRC.
Who do I get in touch with if I want to help or get more information?
- You can contact your tribal child welfare staff people.
- You can contact Esther Attean, a Passamaquoddy tribal member and the lead staff person on the TRC at 207 615-3189 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Lost, their tongues split, they travel a barren land,
seeking the shelter of story.
It is everything and nothing, and all we have to offer;
words, and the telling, rising up like song,
into the night, and to the stars our kin, bearing witness.