Wabanaki Chiefs, Maine Gov. Paul LePage and AFSC's Wabanaki Program Director Denise Altvater signed a declaration of intent on Indian Island to start a truth and reconciliation process between the tribes and the state child welfare system. Among signatories were from left: Denise Altvater and Governor Joseph Socobasin.Photo: Wendy Newell Dyer
The first cooperative Truth and Reconciliation process to be undertaken by Native tribes and a US state will take place in Maine, thanks to years of groundwork by AFSC and partners.
On May 31, 2011, Maine Gov. Paul LePage joined Native officials from Maine’s five tribes in signing a “Declaration of Intent” to create a process to shed light on the terrible injustices of the recent past, promote healing, and improve public policy. Native people and state officials worked together through the planning phases, making this the first truth and reconciliation process in US history to be developed by both sides in partnership.
Through 1978, Maine public policies guided by the slogan, “kill the Indian and save the child,” led to the removal of Native children from their homes and tribes at a shocking rate 19 times the per capita rate for other children placed in foster care throughout the state. Some Native children were put up for adoption, and some were sent to boarding schools where many died from neglect and abuse. Many others were placed in foster care where torturous abuse was all too common.
A mandate will now be developed to set forth the parameters for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) work, which includes the commission selection process, its composition, authority and objectives and the time period of its focus.
The commission will begin its work very soon. Among its activities will be seeking any and all relevant information; interviewing people and reviewing historical documents; operating with transparency yet respecting confidentiality and assuring privacy; publishing reports; providing its final report to the public and specifically to the parties to the TRC and other relevant organizations, and holding a closing ceremony that includes the presentation of its report.
AFSC will continue to work on this unprecedented effort, including putting supports in place for both those testifying and those listening. The process is part of a long term commitment to peace, justice and healing shared by AFSC and its partners on this project.
Denise Altvatar who is a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and AFSC’s Wabanaki Program Director, is one of the individuals who has been working on this project for more than a decade and was one of the children placed into an abusive foster home as a child.
“For me,” she says, “it is about healing, education and learning. It is about changing how we do our work in the future so that every child we are responsible to protect is treated with kindness and dignity and given the best we have to offer.”