This is a working document as of August 5th, 2020 and is subject to change.

Were there and are there Wabanaki in my land trust’s region of Maine?
Wabanaki Tribes have thousands of years of relations to all of the land we now call Maine. Traditionally, the Wabanaki spent long summers on the coast and travelled inland for winters, traveling via canoe on Maine’s intricate river systems.  Even in living memory, many families still maintained that pattern of summering on the coast and harvesting blueberries and shellfish.  Although most land in Maine is historically Wabanaki land, today their communities are mostly concentrated on reservations. Here is a map of current Indian Tribal Lands in Maine.

Who are the Wabanaki in Maine?
Wabanaki, “People of Dawnland,” is a regional identity encompassing members of the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Maliseet, Abenaki and Micmac tribes, with representation in the US northeast and Canada. Today, there are approximately 8,000 Wabanaki Tribal members in Maine, living in towns and cities across the state, or in one of five communities representing four Wabanaki Nations in Maine (the Abenaki do not have a tribal headquarters in Maine). Federally recognized tribes in Maine include the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Houlton Band of Maliseets, Aroostook Band of Micmacs. You can learn more about Wabanaki people on our resource pages, or on the websites for each of their tribes:
Aroostook Band of Micmacs
Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians
Penobscot Indian Nation
Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township
Passamaquoddy at Sipayik
Passamaquoddy Peoples’ Knowledge Portal

Is this work with Tribes happening elsewhere?
There have been many conservation groups of all sizes and geographies who are endeavoring to do land justice work with Indigenous populations. Many have developed agreements to allow cultural uses of lands for traditional ceremonies, harvesting of plants or wildlife, or other uses on select properties.  In places such as California, Minnesota, Hawaii and Massachusetts, there are recently formed Native American-led land trusts, focused on Indigenous Peoples’ lands and land uses. Read more about these land trusts here.

What is the relevance of engagement with the Wabanaki communities to land trust work?
Though geographically dispersed, the Wabanaki are a community with strong values and traditions, many of which are focused on the coast. There are many reasons for an enhanced relationship with land trusts, including:

  • Many land trust preserves have rich Wabanaki history.  If land trusts can build a more reciprocal relationship with the Wabanaki we will gain a more complete understanding of the history of the land.  This will enhance our stewardship of these lands and provide an improved educational experience for visitors, members, people from nearby towns and more.
  • The Wabanaki traditions of stewardship have not included conservation easements, management plans, Declarations of Trust or other tools born out of settler culture.  Traditional knowledge, cultural practices, spiritual ceremonies and attitudes about land ownership and stewardship can provide lessons from which non-Native conservationists can learn a great deal, and that could enhance their stewardship practices.
  • The Wabanaki have sites all over Maine that they would like to conserve for their cultural, spiritual and natural resource importance– access to subsistence living is a tribal right. The Wabanaki are the Maine community that has thousands of years of connection to the land we now call Maine. Land trusts are potentially well positioned to assist in helping to prevent closing off or change to these special places and access to subsistence living is a tribal right.
  • Funders, the Wabanaki and Maine land trusts are interested in this work and efforts are underway to build trust, knowledge, and understanding.

What is the role of the Conservation Community Delegation? Who are they?

  • The Conservation Community Delegation primarily collaborates with the Wabanaki Commission on Land and Stewardship to develop processes and tools for sharing or returning land. Another important role of the Delegation is to serve as a liaison between the conservation community and the Tribes; The Delegation receives requests from the larger conservation community in Maine about Wabanaki engagement and assist in getting these questions answered by the right Wabanaki person, thus minimizing the administrative and communications burden on tribal representatives and ensuring less time away from their own priorities.
  • The Conservation Community Delegation should be your first contact when your organization has a question about offering a transfer of stewardship to the tribes, constructing a land acknowledgement, or finding out the cultural importance of certain pieces of land to Wabanaki people. They will consider your question and respond or connect you with a member of the Wabanaki Commission for further conversations. You can reach the Delegation at firstlightmaine@gmail.com.
  • The Conservation Community Delegation is currently made up of representatives from The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, The Appalachian Mountain Club, Southern Maine Conservation Collaborative, the Forest Society, and Maine Mountain Collaborative who are serving an 18-month term. All of these representatives were members of the first cohort of the Learning Journey and have demonstrated organizational commitment to the larger goals of First Light to increase Wabanaki access to and stewardship of land. Other organizations can join the Delegation with a board endorsement of this extra responsibility and assignment of work.

Is there a map or list of priority lands that Tribes would like to see conserved, so that we know what they care about and can help?
The short answer is no.  The better answer is that it is complicated – and part of why we this Learning Journey has been so deliberate and careful.  Many tribal uses of land are traditional or ceremonial, or for harvesting of plants or medicines, and some involve indigenous knowledge, which is not to be shared outside of indigenous communities.

Should my organization do a land acknowledgement, and how?

  • Read these articles that weigh the pros, cons, and limitations of land acknowledgements, from Indigenous perspectives.
  • Reflect on your motivations for doing a land acknowledgement.
  • Educate yourself through First Light and the Conservation Community Delegation about the land your organization currently stewards and its value to Wabanaki people, without asking too much of Tribal members.
  • Accept that land acknowledgment alone is not enough. It’s merely a starting point for deeper engagement and allyship with local tribes.

How can I take action to support Wabanaki tribes?

  • Take responsibility for educating yourself about Wabanaki history and land dispossession in Maine. Attend a Maine-Wabanaki REACH workshop about Wabanaki history. Read through First Light’s resource library to learn about Wabanaki land loss, tools to expand Indigenous land stewardship, and rethinking conservation to include indigenous perspectives.
  • Read about efforts to uphold and restore Wabanaki sovereignty and LD2094 An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act. Learn more about the recommendations the Indian Land Claims Task Force recently made to change the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act and affirm Wabanaki sovereignty (NPR piece, Maine Conservation Voter’s webinar with John Banks and Corey Hinton, Unsettled by Colin Woodard)
  • Support Wabanaki organizations and initiatives instead of starting your own. See below for a list of Wabanaki-led organizations and businesses you can support. If you work for an organization, consider asking a donor to match donations to your organization with a Wabanaki-led organization, or regranting to Wabanaki organizations.
  • If you steward land, research through First Light to understand the Wabanaki cultural importance of the land you hold.
  • Ask your board and leadership to commit to the second cohort of First Light Learning Journey, a year-long educational program (September 2020-August 2021) that helps landholding organizations advance organizational change to be stronger leaders for Wabanaki prosperity and stewardship of land.
  • Remember that this is long, deep work that requires time and commitment. There is no quick fix you can do or statement you can make that is a shortcut to making history right. The work of educating yourself, redistributing resources, and healing historical wounds is ongoing and cyclical.

I have an idea for a project that I think would help Wabanaki tribes. How should I move forward?

  • Thank you for this motivation.
  • The first step is to get in touch with the Conservation Community Delegation and we’ll help you develop this idea in a way that best services our Wabanaki colleagues.

Which Wabanaki-led organizations and businesses can I support?

How can I show solidarity for Wabanaki sovereignty?

  • Read about efforts to uphold and restore Wabanaki sovereignty and LD2094 An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act. Learn more about the recommendations the Indian Land Claims Task Force recently made to change the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act and affirm Wabanaki sovereignty (NPR piece, Maine Conservation Voter’s webinar with John Banks and Corey Hinton)
  • Sign up to stay informed about the Wabanaki Alliance, a group formed to educate the people of Maine about the need for securing sovereignty of the Tribes in Maine. Or donate to their efforts.

How can my organization share the land we steward with Wabanaki tribes?

  • Thank you for this motivation.
  • We encourage you to work through the Conservation Community Delegation so your goals can be matched with Wabanaki needs.
  • If you have sweetgrass, black ash, or other culturally important species on your organization’s land, reach out to the Conservation Community Delegation to connect with the Wabanaki Commission on Land and Stewardship to offer land access, stewardship, or harvesting opportunities.
  • Beyond these offerings, develop processes to allow Wabanaki people to access land without having to ask permission. The act of asking for permission can be a violation of privacy around their relationship to the land.
  • Make sure Wabanaki people can access the land without paying a fee.
  • Consider how you can ensure Wabanaki people feel safe on the land and have privacy.
  • Begin the process of thinking about how you can ultimately return the land back to Wabanaki people.

What should I do if I have a question about engaging with the tribes?
Contact firstlightmaine@gmail.com and we will connect you to a Delegation member. One important role of the Delegation is to receive your questions about engaging with the tribes and to assist in getting them answered by the right Wabanaki person without overwhelming their systems or taking their time from their priorities.