Transparency is fundamental to earning and maintaining the trust and full participation of everyone in the First Light community, non-native and Wabanaki. The work of First Light needs to be all about shifting power, so it is crucial to be transparent about where power, such as decision-making and money, currently lives and where we hope it will live in the future. 

First Light catalysts Peter Forbes and Ella McDonald co-wrote this document, with input from Conservation Community Delegation members. The 2022 program plan results directly from what they heard in 17 listening sessions over 10 days, 7 group meetings with 40 total First Light learning journey participants and 10 meetings with 15 Wabanaki people in November, 2021.

What are the origins of First Light?

First Light began as an idea in the minds of Peter Forbes and Ciona Ulbrich, two non-native people with ties to land in Maine. They began asking questions and opening conversations, which catalyzed initial connections and learning experiences because they were confronted with the history of Wabanaki land loss and sought to build connections in order to make amends. Over time, their roles in the First Light community have evolved (see below).

What was First Light’s learning journey?

First Light’s learning journey was a 3 year program, involving two separate cohorts, for the conservation community in Maine, including NGOs and government agencies that own or manage lands and/or work with private landowners, funders, and advocacy organizations. Its purpose was to build awareness and understanding about Wabanaki land loss in Maine, to develop and practice equitable principles for Native engagement, and to create new tools to share and return land and power. 

To create the second cohort of First Light’s learning journey, non-native catalysts Peter Forbes and Ella McDonald worked collectively with Indigenous leaders Kyle Lolar and Kathy Pollard to design and facilitate 15 programs that created a platform for over 30 Wabanaki people to speak directly about the importance of their relationship to land and community needs to a committed audience of over 100+ conservationists. We also created forums for our non-native participants to process what they learned, work together on taking actions, and to build relationships with each other. This learning journey created a foundation of relationships and understanding between 60+ conservation organizations in Maine who now are prepared to take steps forward to share and return land and power to Wabanaki people. 

Peter and Ella heard during listening sessions in November 2021 that what’s needed in 2022 is to deepen and develop the existing First Light community and raise money for land stewardship, not widen the fold of organizations in the learning journey. We will only offer another learning journey if asked by the Wabanaki Commission. 

What is First Light now?

First Light is currently a community of 65 agencies or organizations with ties to lands and landowners, advocacy organizations and philanthropic entities in Maine committed to sharing and returning land to Wabanaki communities. First Light is not an organization with a strategic plan, but alternatively is a set of entities with a bedrock commitment to form relationships where there have been few. Our approach is to keep showing up, to listen deeply, to be nimble and to respond to what’s needed. First Light is constantly evolving in response to the expressed needs of our Wabanaki colleagues.

First Light currently has two full-time paid staff, Peter Forbes and a Program Manager who work to meet the values of Wabanaki people and First Light values, as well as design programming to build community learning and momentum. First Light is guided by a shared commitment to relearning, recentering and returning. First Light takes direction from the Wabanaki Commission on Land and Stewardship and other Wabanaki community members and organizations.  The organizations and entities involved then pool resources and work to meet Wabanaki needs through the First Light Conservation Community Delegation and First Light working groups.  Here are the 3 parts of First Light:

  1. Wabanaki Commission on Land and Stewardship Nil yut ktahkomiq nik (the whole earth is our home)
  1. Conservation Community Delegation for Wabanaki Engagement
  1. First Light Community:

    The First Light community includes all organizations or agencies who have participated in either Cohort I or II of First Light’s learning journey, all working group members, all catalysts, and all Wabanaki participants in First Light. First Light will continue to offer programs for and with the community throughout 2022.

    Catalysts

    “Catalysts” is the title for non-native members of the First Light community who play an elevated role. We use the term catalyst to convey our intention to create connections and learning, but not to control outcomes. The roles of catalysts have evolved over time to share power with and take direction from the Wabanaki Commission within First Light. After hearing of the focused interests and skills of certain members of the First Light community, Peter and Ella invited those who showed interest and ability to play elevated roles in the First Light community as catalysts. In 2022, all catalysts will meet for regular catalyst check ins (every 2-4 weeks) to share learning and updates. When needed, First Light funds the organizations of the participating catalysts when needed. Unless invited to continue by the Wabanaki Commission, all non-native catalyst roles will stop by January, 2024 to shift power to Wabanaki people. 

    The following people currently collaborate to make decisions around the budget of First Light programs, the design of programs, and First Light communications to the community. 

    Peter Forbes: Chief catalyst for First Light values, fundraising, and program evolution. Peter is accountable to Wabanaki people and institutions to ensure that First Light’s work centers Wabanaki voice and their direction. 

    Eliza Oldach: Eliza supports the First Light program, maintains communications throughout the community, facilitates meetings, and works with Peter Forbes on grant writing and raising the funds to support First Light efforts.

    Ciona Ulbrich: Catalyst for cultural access tools. Ciona is focused on developing the legal mechanisms that will work in Maine for land trusts and private property owners to share their land, through some recorded mechanism, with Indigenous people and Tribes.

    Ethan Miller: Catalyst for the land relationship fund. Through the organization Land in Common, Ethan is focused on creating a voluntary pool of donated private money that would fund Wabanaki land stewardship. The group he forms will work with Wabanaki leaders to determine the best way to hold and distribute those funds, and work with non-Wabanaki people to raise those private funds inside and outside of Maine.

    Jennifer Melville: Catalyst for public Wabanaki funding opportunities. Through OSI, Jennifer is focused on identifying sources of public dollars for the acquisition and development of land that meets the needs of the Wabanaki around housing, economic development, and drinking water supplies.

    Ellen Sabina: Catalyst for steps forward storytelling. Ellen is focused on sharing organizational learning around Wabanaki engagement with the First Light community. 

    Ella McDonald: Catalyst for curriculum. Ella is focused on facilitating resource sharing and learning on the website and within the First Light community of 130+ conservation leaders.

How does money flow through First Light?

First Light catalysts Peter and Ella currently write all foundation proposals on behalf of the groups within First Light. All funds raised for First Light are held within the 501(c)3 New Learning Journey. For now, New Learning Journey acts as the fiscal agent for the Wabanaki Commission on Land and Stewardship and the Commission has full governance over the allocation of those resources. In 2021, 52% of First Light’s budget flowed directly to Wabanaki people, Tribes or organizations.  

What is New Learning Journey?

New Learning Journey is a 501(c)3 and the fiscal agent for all parts of First Light. It is not designed to be a public facing entity but to function behind the scenes to make this work possible. The board of New Learning Journey does not have any decision-making power over the Wabanaki Commission, the Conservation Community Delegation, or the First Light Community. Peter Forbes serves on the board of New Learning Journey. 

The role of New Learning Journey to be a fiscal agent to catalyze various aspects of First Light will end by January, 2024 unless specifically requested otherwise by the Wabanaki Commission.