But we have to believe it in order to make progress in terms of making change and really living with Wabanaki families as neighbors.” hese are some of the stories that made front-page news in Maine in recent months: The federal government joined the Penobscot Indian Nation in its lawsuit against the state over fishing and hunting rights on the tribe’s ancestral river.

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Dena’s grandparents also were enrolled in an Indian boarding school. The average age of death for Wabanaki people is 54 years.

Seventeen percent of Maine Native Americans have diabetes, compared to 8 percent of the general population.

Denise Altvater says the worst part of being placed in an abusive foster home was not what she suffered, but how it crippled her ability to parent her own children.

She believes she and her sisters were taken primarily because their family was poor and Native American. As a teenager, it was hard for me to understand, but she had her reasons: to protect us.” In some Maine tribes at that time — the mid-1970s — as many as one in three children were in foster care, usually with non-Native families.

We are meeting in a friend’s office near her home on Wabanaki tribal land, away from neighbors’ curious eyes.

For the past four months, I’ve been reaching out to Wabanaki community leaders, trying to connect with people who have testified before a truth and reconciliation commission investigating Native Americans’ experiences with Maine’s child welfare system.

It is the first truth and reconciliation effort in the U. to address Native child welfare practices, and it is believed to be the first in the world to be collaboratively developed from the start by all parties — in this case, the Indian nations and child welfare workers.

Nearly 160 individuals, more than two-thirds of them Wabanaki, have given testimony to the TRC.

With that simple statement, softly delivered in a thin, high voice, Wishcamper was preparing the mostly white audience for the unsparing subtext of the report they were about to hear: Indian child welfare is tangled in a complex web of issues dating back to colonization, and it can only be effectively addressed by reckoning with a still-unfolding history of genocide, racism, and conflicts over tribal sovereignty.

The commission’s five members were seated in February 2013 at the behest of Maine-Wabanaki REACH, an organization comprised of both Natives and non-Natives, mostly women, who have worked in child welfare for the state, private agencies, and the four nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy: Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Micmac, and Maliseet.

Over and over, I’d try to steer the conversation back to the subject of child removals, until one day, while listening to a presentation by Passamaquoddy activist Esther Attean, I finally got it: the Wabanaki are living with the consequences of these events every day.