Growing up Wabanaki in Arundel, Jared Lank didn’t feel like he belonged. As far as he knew, he was the only native student in his community.

Maine’s native history was never taught and if discussed at all, it was undermined and delegitimized by other students and faculty, said Lank, 31.

The Portland school district is integrating both Wabanaki studies and local Black history into its K-12 curriculums, and Lank was one of dozens of advisers who helped develop them. The school board received an update at a meeting Tuesday night.

The Wabanaki studies curriculums for kindergarten, first, third and seventh grades are complete and in use in city classrooms this year. The Wabanaki curriculums for all other grades except sixth and 12th will be launched in the 2024-25 school year.

Local Black history curriculums are already being taught to eighth and 10th graders. All grades will be taught Maine, New England, national and international Black history starting in the 2026-27 school year.

The district has been developing its Wabanaki studies curriculum since 2015 and its local Black history curriculum since 2020. So far, the district has spent a total of about $75,000 on the K-12 curriculums.


“I’m so excited to see the direction we’re going in,” said board member Aura Russell-Bedder. “I really hope we will be a leader and model for school districts,” she said later.

A state law mandating that K-12 school districts teach Wabanaki studies was passed in 2001; another directing schools to teach African American history was passed two decades later.

But neither has ever been enforced by the state Department of Education. Few Maine districts teach Wabanaki studies, at least to the extent required by law, which requires teaching Wabanaki history, culture, government and their relationships with other governments, according to a 2022 report by the Wabanaki Alliance, the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission, ACLU of Maine and the Abbe Museum.

Exceptions include the Bangor, Auburn and Portland school districts, the report found.

How many districts teach African American history is unclear – curriculum decisions in Maine are made by local school boards.

The Portland district’s move to teach Wabanaki studies and Black history is in part to comply with state law. But it’s also about much more, Fiona Hopper, the district’s social studies coordinator, said in an interview prior to the board meeting. Hopper led development of the curriculums.


The goal is to teach students full and accurate history, and to reverse the erasing of Indigenous and Black history and culture from school curriculums, said Hopper, who has worked with dozens of Wabanaki and Black contributors and advisers to create the curriculums.

Teaching Portland students about Wabanaki society has many benefits, said Lank, one of the advisers. Some of the most important are providing an example of what other school districts can do, and showing the state how it can repair its relationships with Indigenous people.

The curriculums come at a time of stark divergence between the way states are teaching history.

In the past few years, many liberal-leaning states have moved in the same direction as Maine, passing laws requiring instruction on Black, Native American or Hispanic history, according to the research group Education Commission of the States. 

A Connecticut law requires that African American, Puerto Rican and Latino studies be included in all public school social studies curriculums. A Rhode Island law says schools must include a unit on African history and heritage.

Many more conservative-leaning states have moved in the opposite direction, limiting what schools can teach about racism, current events and related topics.


Florida banned Advanced Placement African American history courses. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education said when the ban took effect that such courses lack “educational value.” Texas law limits how teachers can talk about current events and the history of racism. A South Dakota law restricts teaching “inherently divisive topics” in K-12 schools. Some schools around the country have banned books with diverse characters.

The purpose behind creating the Wabanaki and local Black history curriculums is to teach students accurate, full and inclusive history that allows students from different backgrounds to feel represented in what they’re learning, said Hopper.

“When students have a clearer and better understanding of the place they live and see themselves as part of it they feel more connected to the place and build a positive relationship to the community,” said Hopper. “If students develop a strong relationship with this place it will help ensure that it is cared for in the best way possible.”

Once the curriculums are integrated into Portland schools, they will be shared with schools statewide. Hopper said she hopes sharing these curriculums with other districts will provide resources that can help them incorporate these topics.

In Portland, Lank is soon expecting his first child.

“I’m really grateful to know my child will be able to go to schools where he’ll feel respected and acknowledged,” he said.

Note: This story was updated Sept. 27 to clarify which groups published the 2022 report on the status of Wabanaki studies in Maine schools.

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