In celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a panel of historians, educators and artists will gather at Curtis Memorial Library Wednesday evening to discuss the importance of thoughtfully sharing the stories and cultures of Maine’s Native populations.

The free event, titled “Many Voices: Who Gets to Tell the Story? How does our community understand itself in terms of its Indigenous past and present?” grew out of conversations and disagreements surrounding an upcoming 1,400 square-foot mural on Cabot Mill, said Mihku Paul, a First Nations poet and writer.

“Art has the ability to impact people in so many ways,” she said. “We have to be really thoughtful when we bring art into the public space (about) how it can do the most good.”

Paul and several other panelists and organizers have criticized Brunswick Public Art’s handling of the mural, which will be titled “Many Stiches.” While the piece aims to highlight the town’s diversity, the artists and Brunswick Public Art missed the mark by failing to consult with local Indigenous groups on the design, said event co-organizer Cathey Cyrus of the Midcoast Indigenous Awareness Group.

“We felt that the (Indigenous) community couldn’t really be celebrated if we didn’t have the whole story,” she said. “It was a missed a missed opportunity here to invite in the voices that have not been heard.”

Wednesday’s event, which will run from 6 to 8 p.m. at Curtis Library’s Morrell Meeting Room, will bring together speakers from both sides of the Cabot Mill mural issue.


Heather Augustine, education coordinator with Wabanaki Reach, and James E. Francis, Sr., director of cultural and historic preservation for the Penobscot Nation, will join Paul in offering First Nation perspectives.

Joseph M. Hall, Jr., an associate professor of history at Bates College and member of the Pejepscot Portage Mapping Project, will talk about the history of Indigenous populations on the land where Brunswick now lies. According to Hall, modern day Main Street was once an important portage site for Native travelers traveling between Merrymeeting and Casco bays.

Through public art projects and other education initiatives, communities like Brunswick should do more to bring Indigenous voices and stories to the public’s attention, he said.

“For me the brilliance of any kind of a community…comes from the ability to draw on this wide array of skills and perspectives that we all bring to our collective work,” Hall said. “When we limit who participates, we impoverish who we are as a community and what our community can do.”

Brunswick Public Art Treasurer and Cabot Mill mural project manager Steve Weems will also feature in the discussion, which will be moderated by Rev. Roy Partridge, Jr., a former Bowdoin College professor and member of the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission.

Weems and the mural’s critics, including members of the panel, continue to disagree about the contents of the artwork. While the latter group has argued “Many Stiches,” pushes Native voices to the periphery of the conversation and whitewashes problematic aspects of the Cabot Mill’s past, Weems said the mural is intended to look toward Brunswick’s future.

Yet both sides agree that coming together for a public discussion is a valuable exercise that matches the goals of Weems’ organization.

“One of public art’s purposes is to generate conversations, whether they’re comfortable or not,” he said. “In that respect, this project is working just as intended.”

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