From 2013 to 2015, we served as commissioners of the Maine-Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Based on our findings and recommendations, we support passage of L.D. 2094, An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Implementing Act.

In 2012, the governor of Maine and the five tribal chiefs signed as equals a mandate to authorize the commission to investigate whether or not the removal rate of Wabanaki children from their communities continued to be disproportionate to the removal rate of non-Native children and to make recommendations, as directed by the official Truth and Reconciliation Commission mandate, that “promote individual, relational, systemic and cultural reconciliation.”

This Truth and Reconciliation Commission was the first in the United States in which two parties agreed to come together to pursue answers to difficult questions, and it is one of the first in the world to examine issues of Native child welfare.

We spent 27 months interviewing hundreds of people involved in child welfare: Native and non-Native social workers, foster and adoptive families, judges, lawyers and educators, as well as the people who had been taken from their families and their family members. Our charge was very focused, with a specific directive to examine the child welfare system’s adherence to the Indian Child Welfare Act, passed into federal law in 1972, with which Maine was found to be out of compliance by a federal review in 1999.

Despite this very explicitly defined and focused objective, we couched the findings in our final report within the following overarching determination:

• Finding 1: “We interpret this information within a web of interconnected causes, including the presence of institutional racism in state systems and the public; the effects of historical trauma; and a long history of contested sovereignties and jurisdictions between the state and the tribes.”

• Recommendation 1: “Respect tribal sovereignty and commit to resolve and uphold federal, state and tribal jurisdictions and protocols at both state and local levels.”

These strong words are still fully relevant in considering the legislative recommendations brought forward by the Maine Indian Claims Task Force in L.D. 2094. The Maine Indian Land Claims Implementing Act was a focal thread and backdrop in our many interviews. We considered it imperative to address the issues that the land claims act caused as central to our findings and recommendations.

The Implementing Act created ongoing confusion, misunderstandings and constraints that must be addressed. L.D. 2094 provides a momentous opportunity to face harms that have happened here and to do what is required to restore greater justice.

We stand in solidarity with the Wabanaki people by supporting and advocating the passage of L.D. 2094.


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