A fourth grade class at Reiche Community School in Portland learns about Wabanaki history in April 2022. Even though a 2001 law mandated that Maine schools incorporate Wabanaki studies, there has been no large-scale effort to do so until recently. A new bill would help schools comply. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine lawmakers plan to vote this week on a bill that would help K-12 schools comply with laws requiring them to teach African American and Maine Native American studies.

The bill sponsored by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross would create an African American and Wabanaki Studies Advisory Council and fund professional development for teachers to guarantee both topics are accurately and thoughtfully incorporated into school curriculums.

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House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

“By ensuring that a complete and accurate body of voices and stories is included in the telling of Maine’s history, we can move forward as more informed and empathetic people,” Talbot Ross, a Democrat, said in written testimony.

The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee plans to vote on the bill Tuesday.

Maine passed a law in 2001 requiring Wabanaki studies be taught in schools. Twenty years later it passed a bill requiring African American studies. But neither included any funding or other significant resources to support schools in adding the new topics into lessons. And school districts and teachers already pressed for time and money have been slow to update curricula.

Even two decades after the Wabanaki bill passed, a 2022 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine,  the Abbe Museum, the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission and Wabanaki Alliance found that many districts failed to incorporate the class.


One expert says this is common among laws requiring African American history be taught in K-12 schools.

“What has happened sometimes is that the mandates are in names only,” said LaGarrett King, director of the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education at the University of Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education.

“States need to incorporate professional development and other aspects to ensure that teachers and the curriculum will be ready to explore the nuances around African American studies,” King said.

Talbot Ross said she’s always known that the 2021 bill was the beginning, not the end of the process of implementing African American studies into schools. Partly because she learned from the foundering of the Wabanaki studies bill.

She amended L.D. 2001 on Thursday to include resources to support teaching Wabanaki studies.

“Since the passage of (the African American studies) bill we’ve understood that the next step is to ensure support and accountability around its implementation,” Talbot Ross said at a hearing on Jan. 11. “I believe that it is critical that our teachers be furnished with the resources and instruction to teach this material and that we ensure it is properly taught.”


In a public hearing and work session on the bill this month, other legislators agreed.

“I think it does a lot of important things and will help us to truly push the issue forward,” said Sen. James Libby, R-Cumberland.


If the bill passes and is signed into law by the governor, the African American and Wabanaki Studies Advisory Council would have 15 members, including people from Wabanaki tribes in Maine, someone involved in African American civil rights, educators and a curriculum director.

It would be charged with assisting school districts in deciding which educational materials and resources to use and identifying resources, including input from other organizations, for incorporating the topics into curricula.

It also would require reports from the advisory committee on the implementation of the topics and require the Maine Department of Education to develop professional development opportunities and work toward implementing the topics in teacher certification programs.

Talbot Ross’ initiative comes at a time of statewide and national strife over what should be taught in schools, especially when it pertains to contentious parts of American history such as slavery and Native American genocide.

At least 12 states have moved in the same direction as Maine, passing laws requiring schools to teach African American and or Native American history, but nearly twice as many have imposed bans or restrictions on teaching about race or topics that could be considered controversial or divisive.

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