First Light began the first cohort of the Learning Journey in 2017 to foster awareness and points of relationship between Native and non-Native conservationists that we hoped would lead directly to expanded access to land and water, natural and cultural resources for Wabanaki people. Between 2017 and 2019, land trusts came together to learn about Wabanaki history, culture and the impacts of land loss and seeking out relationships in the five Wabanaki communities. This cohort went on multi-day trips to each of the five communities to meet with chiefs, ambassadors and natural resource directors to understand land stewardship needs. They went on a joint canoe expedition together and began to develop specific tools to enable the legal granting of access and the sharing of rights to land. The first phase concluded in June, 2019 with a large gathering Building Collaboration across the Lands of the Wabanaki that was held on lake Millinocket facing Katahdin. It is referred to as the Katahdin gathering. Many Wabanaki and land trust participants felt this was a milestone event marking the beginning of the real work. We learned many lessons from this first cohort, and you can read our notes and other learnings from the late 2017-2019 program here.
In late 2019, we embarked on an in-depth evaluation period, meeting one on one with Wabanaki people from all of the Tribes as well as with land trust participants. What is possible? What is needed to meet this possibility? With the constructive input from that process we now will welcome a second cohort of Learning Journey in September 2020 for an 18 month long program. This second cohort of approximately 20 committed conservation organizations around Maine will build awareness and understanding about Indigenous land loss, develop and practice equitable principles for native engagement, and create new tools to share land and resources. In June 2021, the second phase will come to a close and be acknowledged and celebrated with a second gathering at the foot of Katahdin, similar to our June gathering in 2019. You can read more about how to participate here, and read more about our decision to organize our program virtually in 2020.