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Penobscot Youth invited to the White House

This past August, Unity recognized Penobscot Nation Youth Council with the 2022 Youth Council of the Year Award! Eben Francis, a member of the PNYC, was invited to the White House for a 2022 White House Tribal Youth Forum & The White House Celebration Of Native American Heritage Month on November 14 & 15th. Over 100 Native Youth met to discuss key issues our communities are facing including mental health, wellness, climate change, food sovereignty, education, and more.

Eben had the opportunity to hear remarks from First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Auntie Deb), as well as participate in the one-day forum which focused on key issues facing Indian country today. The exciting program featured high-level administration officials, special guests, and other Native youth from across Indian Country.

WPHW looks forward to supporting Wabanaki Youth Councils in attending the 2023 UNITY National Conference in Washington DC in June!

“This is an amazing opportunity for our Native youth to engage with the White House on key policy initiatives impacting their tribal communities,” said Mary Kim Titla, UNITY executive director. “The youth selected for this forum have demonstrated strong leadership skills and the desire to have their voices heard on issues important to them.”

 

 

Read more about the event here: Native Youth attend the 2022 White House Tribal Youth Forum  – Center for Native American Youth (cnay.org)

Penobscot Nation Youth Council recognized as UNITY Youth Council of the Year 2022!

In 2018, the Penobscot Nation Youth Council passed a resolution with the Penobscot Nation to be named the Penobscot Nation Youth Council and to become a UNITY (United National Indian Tribal Youth) youth council. In July 2019, seven Penobscot youth attended the annual 5-day UNITY National Conference held in Florida. The experience was life-changing.

Since then, the Youth Council planned on going back, although the impact of Covid-19 prevented them from attending. However, the youth council continued to meet virtually and in person when safe. They continued to create positive change within their community by hosting an Earth Day clean up, participated in a social media campaign around how harmful Native costumes & mascots are, used their voices to testify and rally for clean water, supported the annual community Color Run to raise awareness for substance use prevention, and more! 

The youth are committed to creating positive change within their community and beyond, strengthening their cultural identity, and building their leadership skills. This past August, UNITY recognized PNYC with the 2022 Youth Council of the Year Award!

On November 3rd, during the 2- day Maine Youth Action Network Youth Leadership Conference, Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness (WPHW) celebrated this incredible accomplishment with Chief Francis and members of the Micmac and Passamaquoddy youth councils over dinner. Chief Francis congratulated the youth for leaning into these opportunities, using their voice, and standing up for what they believe in as they are the future leaders of their Nations.

Due to UNITY’s recognition, Eben Francis a member of the PNYC was invited to the White House for a Tribal youth forum on Monday, November 14th. Over 100 Native Youth from across Indian country met to discuss key issues our communities are facing.   

We would like to congratulate the impactful work the youth councils are engaging in, and congratulate PNYC for the youth council of the year award. WPHW looks forward to supporting Wabanaki youth council to attend the 2023 UNITY conference in DC, where UNITY will recognize PNYC for the 2022 Youth Council of the Year Award!  

Click here to read more about our Youth Council.

2022 Internship Highlight

We would like to highlight and celebrate one of our high school SHIP interns from our 2022 summer internship; Caroline! Caroline, pictured above, learned how to bead in a couple of weeks from some amazing bead artists and created an instructional video on how to bead.

Stay tuned for the end of the tutorial to watch an interview between Caroline and Keyana Pardilla about her own beading experience. Below is a photo of Caroline’s beadwork.

 

Watch Caroline’s Beading Tutorial!

 

by Saige Purser, Supporting Our Next Generation Division Director

 

Click here to read more about our Internship Programs.

Birch Bark Harvesting with Dale Dana

by Darren “Moose” Ripley, Veterans Services Coordinator

On August 18, I accompanied Dale Dana of Motahkmikuk, in the woods to harvest birch bark to make moose calls.

Dale had instructed me on what type of birch to use (white birch) and to use winter bark- not summer bark- as winter bark is thicker. After finding our trees we were going to use, he showed me how to cut and remove the bark from the tree. It was raining which made it easier to remove the bark. Wet bark is ideal as it is very flexible and easily shaped for making the calls. Dale also showed me his hunting spots where he has harvested numerous moose over the years. (Dale- your secret is safe with me!)

The trip was fun and educational as I got to hear hunting stories from when he was younger, how he has taught his children to call, track and hunt, as well as how he is passing on his knowledge to other hunters as well. We also observed recent deer and moose activity while in the woods.

 

On August 19, we had our “Make Your Own Birch Bark Moose Call” event at the Indian Township Recreation Center.

We were joined by fellow veterans, Mark Richter and Richard Stevens, as Dale showed us how to properly roll and cut the bark to the shape we wanted our call. He also showed us how to properly secure the shape in place while we threaded the sinew that holds our call together. Frank Tomah graced us with his presence and hung out with us for a while as we made our calls.

Overall, it was a momentous day learning a new skill with great people and being taught by great and knowledgeable community member. Dale has a taught us an amazing and interesting craft that we will teach our children and future generations to come. Woliwon Dale!

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Center for Wabanaki Research, Knowledge & Innovation leading new Alzheimer’s study

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness is looking into brain health for seniors in the community.

WPHW and WSU’s Institute for Research and Education to Advance Community Health (IREACH), have been awarded a four-year, $4.49 million grant from the National Institute on Aging. The newly established Center for Wabanaki Research, Knowledge & Innovation is leading the study. The research, which will be based out of Bangor, will start this summer and take place over the next four years.

This study aims to estimate the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease-related dementias and mild cognitive impairment among Wabanaki tribal citizens aged 55 and older, as well as to determine current and future economic costs associated with these conditions.

Lisa Sockabasin, RN, MS and Co-CEO of WPHW and Dr. Patrik Johansson, MD, MPH and Associate Professor at WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, who is also director of Northwest Health Education Research Outcomes Network (NW HERON), are co-leading these efforts.

“Through building a greater capacity for research, we will be able to deepen our learning about our Tribes’ unique health needs. We are one of two organizations in the northeast to be awarded this opportunity to expand this meaningful work.” Sockabasin said. “We are grateful to have the opportunity to keep our knowledge within our own communities as these efforts are being led by Tribal elders and Native researchers.”

Sockabasin is a citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk with extensive experience and expertise in tribal, state, and federal governments, non-profits, and philanthropic organizations. She collaborates with a variety of partners, including tribal leadership, to address systemic inequities experienced by Wabanaki communities in Maine. Through her work, she develops and implements culturally based programs that respond to the needs of the tribal communities.

Dr. Johansson has worked for over 20 years with the Wabanaki Nations made up of the Mi’kmaq Nation; the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians; the Penobscot Nation; and the Passamaquoddy Tribe, which comprises the Indian Township and Pleasant Point communities. Johansson has also worked with a variety of Tribes across the nation.

“We are grateful for the strong leadership and vision of Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness in establishing the Center for Wabanaki Research, Knowledge & Innovation.” Johansson said. “Through our partnership we will learn about memory function of Wabanaki elders and create education programming for future generations of public health professionals and researchers who are Wabanaki Tribal citizens.”

The grant will also fund two capacity-building projects for WPHW led by Dr. Rebecca Petrie, Co-CEO of WPHW. The first project will build research capacity among WPHW staff and Wabanaki undergraduate students through a year-long tailored public health research methods course and student internships. The second will exercise tribal sovereignty through the creation of a Tribal Research Review Board (TRRB) to regulate scientific endeavors and build research capacity.

Petrie said, “We are delighted to be able to build this research capacity, not only for our organization, but also for the tribal communities and people we serve. Indigenous researchers will lead our efforts to build this capacity directly through this opportunity to tell the stories of success.”

Rebecca Petrie, PhD, MPH, has experience working in tribal health, health equity, public health nutrition, program evaluation, and systems development. In her capacity as the Co-CEO of WPHW, she oversees the operational, financial, data, and research efforts for the organization. She is an Epidemiologist and has 20 years’ experience working with public health data systems.

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WPHW is one of 29 organizations to receive a Native American Research Center for Health (NARCH) grant through the National Institute on Aging (NIA). The NIA is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Learn more about the Center for Wabanaki Research, Knowledge & Innovation here.

Native culture nonprofit offsets energy costs with 20-kW solar array

Nibezun, a Native-led nonprofit that seeks to revitalize and preserve Wabanaki culture, welcomed a new solar array and heat pump system to deliver sustainable electricity and heat to its facilities.

“We hope to ensure increased sustainability for now and for generations to come, and solar energy is the obvious next step on our path,” said Nicole Paul, co-director at Nibezun. Partnering with Everybody Solar, nearly $60,000 was raised from foundations and individual donors, to install the solar array and heat pump system, which will offset almost all of the nonprofit’s current electricity usage and allow Nibezun to spend more of its resources on cultural preservation programming.

Each year, Nibezun spends approximately $4,600 on electricity across its multiple buildings. The 20.48-kW solar energy array installed by Sundog Solar will generate 23,806 kWh of electricity, offsetting nearly 100% of current usage. These savings will allow Nibezun to reallocate funding to various programs, including:

  • Preservation of the land’s natural beauty and abundant wildlife
  • Balancing the production of natural resources
  • Restoring ancient ceremonies once held on the same grounds

“Everybody Solar’s mission is to bring solar to everybody,” said Myriam Scally, director of operations & development at Everybody Solar Director. “Over the years, we have found that some of our most valued projects have been in support of Native American communities across the United States. We are honored to have been able to help Nibezun go solar and thus restore the balance of their operations.”

Donors/Partners for the solar array include Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness, Sundog, the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, individual donors, Engie, Citizen and Business Performance Improvement.

Nibezun works to bring a sense of stewardship, sustainability and community to local residents. Since being founded in 2016, has sought sustainable growth, supporting its mission of preserving and sharing Wabanaki culture through education and practice on dedicated lands along the Penobscot River.

News item from Everybody Solar

Native culture nonprofit offsets energy costs with 20-kW solar array

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness purchase home for indigenous women’s recovery

Collaboration with Passamaquoddy Tribe on first indigenous women’s recovery home in Maine

5/5/2022. Bangor, ME – Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness, in collaboration with the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township, has finalized the purchase of a home in Bangor, destined to be the first indigenous women’s recovery home in Maine.

“We have a responsibility to the women – the mothers, the daughters, sisters, and friends – in our community to provide healing, safe places where they can recover,” said Passamaquoddy Chief William Nicholas Sr., of Indian Township.

The home, scheduled to open late May of 2022, will provide recovery services for up to 12 indigenous women. Part of the WPHW’s recovery campus in Bangor and Millinocket, the home will provide a safe, substance-free, and culturally healing living environment for indigenous women who are ready to transition away from a life of substance use, allowing them to develop meaningful and independent lives.

“I am grateful to partner with Chief Nicholas to establish this home for women who are ready to start their healing journey. We have a place for them, and we will be with them every step of the way,” said Lisa Sockabasin, Co-CEO of Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness.

The women’s home is a six-bedroom house that will provide recovery housing for indigenous women from the Wabanaki communities throughout Maine. Similar to the WPHW recovery home for men, there will be on-site staff and culturally aligned services that include relationship building, a recovery program, peer support, indigenous nutrition and wellness education, counseling, and other support services.

“This is something we need. When we lose our connection to our culture, we lose our ability to heal. Women’s healing and recovery is a critical need in our community and it’s important to me. My heart is called to invest in and support rebuilding the connection to traditional indigenous healing and ceremony,” added Nicholas.

The women’s recovery home is taking applications for residency.

Passamaquoddy One Step Closer to Regulating their Own Water Supply

Earlier this month, hundreds march for march on Blaine House for Passamaquoddy water rights at the Maine State House. (Photo/Courtesy Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness)

“Certain times of year, the water is brown,” Corey Hinton, Passamaquoddy, told Native News Online. He’s describing his tribe’s drinking water that comes from nearby Boyden Stream Reservoir, fed by a lake that’s often used for recreational purposes, and as a dumping ground for waterfowl.

“The end result is that the water that is delivered to both the Passamaquoddy tribe and to the neighboring city is often discolored, like a brown or a yellow,” Hinton said. “ It often smells like a rotten egg, or at other times like chlorine. It’s been known to cause skin irritation and burning of skin in children. This is a problem that has been no existence for many years.”

For years, the tribe has been advocating for the passage of a bill that would allow them to regulate their own drinking water. On Thursday, that bill received approval from the Maine Senate, and is now on its way to the governor’s desk for final approval.

Currently, the state of Maine regulates the Passamaquoddy’s water system. Maine’s unique jurisdictional arrangement with its four federally recognized tribes— derived from the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980— gives it certain powers over tribes that are normally reserved for the federal government. If the clean drinking water bill passes, it will be the first time that Maine relinquishes its jurisdiction over tribal lands in any way, Hinton said.

“This bill represents one of the first ever attempts by a single tribe [in Maine] to take a narrow issue and overhaul the settlement act with respect to that issue,” Hinton, who is also an attorney for his tribe, told Native News Online. “In the past, the Settlement Act has been a mandate. With LD 906, we are flipping the paradigm so that the state of Maine will no longer have jurisdiction over any issues related to drinking water on Passamaquoddy lands.”

The bill does three things:

First, it exempts the Passamaquoddy Water District, a non-tribal entity and the water district in the state of Maine that pays property taxes, from taxation by municipal governments. Savings collected would instead go towards the cost of maintaining the filter upgrades.

Then, it authorizes two parcels of tribally owned fee land near the Passamaquoddy Indian territory to be added to the tribe’s territory through the federal trust acquisition process, in order to provide access to alternate supplies of groundwater.

Last, it provides that the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and not the state, the  authority to regulate drinking water standards within Passamaquoddy Indian territory.

Screen Shot 2022 04 14 at 5.33.13 PM
Pictures of a young boy’s legs, after he bathed in the contaminated water from Boyden Stream Reservoir. (Photo/Courtesy Noela Altvater)

“Nothing about this will change the water overnight, that water supply will still continue to be the dirty supply that it is with birds using it as a toilet,” Hinton said. “But our hope is that the district would be better equipped to clean the water. And that through some of the lands that will be protected, the tribe may actually be able to potentially provide an alternate drinking supply to the water district.”

A final decision on the bill from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is expected soon. Also today, the Maine Legislature heard oral arguments for another, larger sovereignty bill that would reinstate the four federally recognized tribes’ sovereignty. A House vote on that bill is expected Friday, April 15.

Native News Online Article

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness host Cultural Tourism Assessment Conference

University of Southern Maine Dept. of Tourism and Hospitality visit Millinocket

3/24/2022. Millinocket, ME – On March 3 and 4, 2022, students and faculty from the University of Southern Maine’s (USM) Department of Tourism and Hospitality visited Millinocket and the surrounding region to learn about and assess the area’s Cultural Tourism potential through the lens of Wabanaki tradition.

“I want to thank everyone at Wabanaki Public Health for their generosity in hosting our USM Tourism Hospitality students in Millinocket as we work together on outlining some indigenous wellness tourism ideas on lands that have always been theirs. Students were deeply impacted. They learned so much and left with increased respect for resilient people that despite generations of hardship inflicted on them still kindly reach out the hand of cooperation and healing in the hopes of creating a better future for us all,” said Tracy Michaud, Assistant Professor in Tourism and Hospitality at USM.

The students participated in a welcoming smudge ceremony, traditional dinner, snowshoe tour, medicine plant walk tour, and in-depth conversations with tribal elders about their cultural heritage.

“For over 10,000 years, Wabanaki people thrived on this land, working and honoring the rivers, lakes, mountains, and forests. Our culture is woven into the very activities that locals and visitors enjoy today – from canoeing and hiking to creating art from nature’s bounty. It makes sense that aspects of our culture, which are still part of our healing and wellness traditions to this day, can and should be integrated into a cultural tourism plan,” said Lisa Sockabasin, Co-CEO of Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness.  “We are grateful for the opportunity to work with USM’s students to explore what this could look like.”

The conference was hosted by New England Outdoor Center (NEOC) and the Wabanaki Healing Lodge and Gathering Place. In addition to Wabanaki-centered activities, the students also toured the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, the Moose Prints Gallery, and the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine Orono.

“As a non-native Mainer, I am grateful for the opportunity to be educated by and interact with the Wabanaki. It was far beyond anything I have experienced behind a desk. After our meetings, I felt an increased appreciation for native traditions and look forward to incorporating this knowledge into my tourism development work,” noted Hana Suessenguth, Senior USM Tourism and Hospitality major.

Speakers at the conference included Matt Polstein of NEOC, Anita Meuller, owner of Moose Prints Gallery, Lucas St. Clair of Elliotsville Foundation, and Gary Allen, founder of the Millinocket Marathon and Half.

“I was thrilled to participate in the Wabanaki cultural tourism conference. It was a joy to learn about the Wabanaki language, earth connections, and thousands of years old customs. It left me wanting to know more. I left the conference inspired to do whatever I can to help bridge lost connections to the people of the first light,” said Gary Allen, a leader in sports tourism in the state and Millinocket Marathon and Half race Director.

The students are part of an advanced policy class at USM that examines tourism’s economic, environmental, and social benefits and impacts on local communities and environments. The goal of their visit to Millinocket is to give students an opportunity to learn about meaningful cultural tourism development through co-creating the beginning of an Indigenous Cultural Tourism plan with Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness.

“This is a life lesson so much more important than anything I could teach in my classroom, and I am grateful for this partnership,” added Michaud.

Reports will be presented to Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness at the end of April with ongoing work planned.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for the local economy and local businesses operating in the tourism industry. Cultural tourism incorporates arts and crafts, local heritage, natural landmarks and landscapes, history, and other cultural elements into a visitor’s experience. It’s time to celebrate and include the Wabanaki’s deep and timeless contributions to our area,” said Matt Polstein, President of NEOC.

All photos contributed by Tracy Michaud

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness celebrates achievements 1-year post-merger

WPHW continues to expand Healing and Wellness services in the Katahdin region

MILLINOCKET, ME. 3/1/2022- One year after Wabanaki Public Health merged with Wabanaki Health and Wellness to form Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness (WPHW), the organization has had several notable achievements. As they move into 2022, WPHW has prioritized healing and recovery services for its communities, along with their continued work surrounding water quality, sovereignty, and cultural events. WPHW will be hosting various weekly community events and programs including:

  • Mindfulness Mondays – Breathwork, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and long-lasting health and wellness practices.
  • Wellbriety Meetings – White Bison 12-Step/Medicine Wheel recovery meeting which focuses on healing through a talking circle. This is an open meeting, and all are welcome to join and heal.
  • Project Venture– An adventure-based, experiential education curriculum for middle school-aged youth that integrates culture, adventure sports, and service-learning through in-school and out-of-school sessions.
  • Art Lab – A program for all ages focused on cultivating the next generation of Passamaquoddy artists.
  • Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Language Class – Come learn the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet language in an immersion-style learning classroom.
  • Penobscot Nation, Indian Township, Sipayik and Maliseet Youth Meetings and Game Night.

See the WPHW Community Events Calendar for more information and registration links: https://wabanakiphw.org/calendar/

Below is a list of some of the major highlights from WPHW’s 2021 year in review:

2021 Achievements

January – Merger of Wabanaki Public Health and Wabanaki Health and Wellness to form Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness (WPHW), expanding public health and recovery services in Maine’s Indigenous communities.

February – Began offering Wabanaki language classes and carried out community smudging in all five tribal communities.

March – Art Lab for all ages, a program focused on cultivating the next generation of Passamaquoddy artists.

April – Hosted the first-ever Wabanaki Youth and Sciences (WaYS) virtual minicamp centered on maple sugaring. The 23rd annual Wabanaki Spring Social was also hosted via Zoom.

May – Ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the Opportunity House, a new recovery and healing center for Indigenous men with substance use disorder in Bangor.

June – Co-presented a Strengthening Families Workshop Series with the Maine Youth Action Network (MYAN) that examined the neuroscience behind social and emotional learning (SEL).

July – Ribbon cutting ceremony for the WPHW mobile food pantry, an initiative to address food insecurity in Maine’s tribal communities. Wabanaki community members also gathered in Millinocket for the unveiling of the Gathering Place, a lodge to support those in recovery.

August – WPHW received a portion of the $1 Million US Department of Health and Human Services grant to increase vaccine access in five Maine community organizations.

September – WPHW received $1.38 Million, awarded through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s office to improve public health and wellness services and treatment programs.

October – WPHW featured on Maine Life Media’s season 6, episode 23 The North Maine Woods, ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Healing and Recovery Center, and a Wabanaki-youth led suicide prevention PSA video. Lisa Sockabasin (Passamaquoddy), co-CEO of WPHW awarded the Dr. Wendy J. Wolf Health and Leadership Award and Plansowes Dana (Passamaquoddy) was awarded the National Indian Health Board’s 2021 Local Impact Award.

November – Lisa Sockabasin (Passamaquoddy) featured on MaineBiz’s 2021 Next List, WPHW received the Maine Children’s Alliance Giraffe Award, Geo Neptune (Passamaquoddy) featured on the 26th Annual Out100 List, Paige Sullivan (Passamaquoddy) selected as a participant in the Virtual White House Tribal Nation Summit. The Wabanaki Women’s Economic Mobility Hub launched in partnership with the Maine Women’s Fund, an initiative serving as a safe cultural place for a women’s talking circle and sharing traditional skills like regalia making.

December – WPHW was involved in the Millinocket Marathon & Half events that provided economic support to the region. Wabanaki community members also showed support to men in recovery by making traditional foods, crafting necklaces, culturally created ornaments, and lighting a sacred medicinal cedar tree.

“Looking back, I am amazed at all the achievements we accomplished in just one year at Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness,” says Lisa Sockabasin, Co-CEO of Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness. “We worked hard, moved quickly, and centered culture, love and service. We look forward to a bright and abundant 2022, where we will be opening our first women’s recovery home and a Detox and Healing Center in the Bangor area. We also plan to expand our presence in the Millinocket region by participating in this year’s Millinocket Marathon again, as well as opening our new Family and Friends Connection Center in downtown Millinocket by the end of 2022.”

About Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness (WPHW) provides community-driven, culturally centered public health, social services, and recovery and healing opportunities to all Wabanaki communities and people while honoring Wabanaki cultural knowledge, cultivating innovation, and fostering collaboration. Our values include inclusivity, balance, and cultural centeredness. Wabanaki traditions, language, and culture guide our approach and describe the ways we live in harmony with each other and the land we collectively share.  To learn more, please visit www.wabanakiphw.org

Passamaquoddy hope new bill will end ‘generational water crisis’

Noela Altvater is just 19, but she’s taking action to improve the quality of water for the Passamaquoddy who live at Pleasant Point.

Growing up on the tribal lands just outside of Eastport, she was told again and again not to drink the water from the tap. She suffered rashes and skin problems. The water was yellow or brown. It stained the shower and the toilet.

“That was embedded in me as a child, that the water is just bad,” she said. “Water is bad. Don’t drink it.”

To help draw attention to the issue, Altvater created an online story called “Sipayik’s Water Crisis.” She’s also watching the progress of bills at the Legislature, including LD 906 “An Act to Provide Passamaquoddy Tribal Members Access to Clean Water.”

For years, people have complained about the color and smell of the water at Pleasant Point. More concerning, following quarterly tests, the Passamaquoddy Water District occasionally sends out notices about high levels of a chemical that has been linked to cancer.

The water district, which serves about 1,400 people in Eastport and Pleasant Point, last sent out a notice about high levels of trihalomethanes in the water in October 2019. The notice lists possible health effects: “some people who drink water containing trihalomethanes in excess of the (maximum contaminant level) over many years could experience liver, kidney and central nervous system problems and an increased risk of cancer.”

“We have bad times of year,” said Ann Bellefleur, business manager for the district. “I agree it’s not the best, but there is nothing else at the moment.”

The bill would make the water district tax exempt, which is the same status as all other water districts in the state, said tribal attorney Corey Hinton. It also would allow the tribe to put two parcels of land in a federal trust to help with future water acquisition. Lastly, the bill would allow the tribe to regulate its own water in consultation with the federal government, like other tribes across the country.

Hinton said the bill is designed to stand alone, regardless of what happens to the larger — and potentially more controversial — bills that rewrite the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act.

“This issue of drinking water is a public health issue,” he said. “Drinking water should be nonpartisan. It’s a human right.”

On Monday night, at a special meeting of the water district board of trustees, members of the panel said they felt blindsided by the proposed legislation. The five-member board consists of three tribal members, a representative of Eastport and one from Perry. They had hoped to take a position on the bill in advance of the Thursday work session by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

A sign along County Road heading out of Eastport lets drivers know they have entered Sipayik, the Passamaquoddy word for Pleasant Point. (Photo by Susan Cover/Spectrum News Maine).

“If there’s going to be changes to the charter, it should be brought through us,” said Randy Newcomb of Perry. “It blew me away that major changes are coming and we weren’t notified.”

Water district trustee Mary Daigle, who represents the Passamaquoddy, handed out information sheets to try to answer questions. She also compiled a list of questions for a follow up meeting of the board on Wednesday.

She said regardless of the outcome of the legislation, she hopes to see improvements in the water soon.

“I know my water is bad,” she said. “It smells bad. It looks bad. One way or the other, I’d like to be able to cook with my water.”

Board members said Eastport doesn’t have problems to the same extent as the Passamaquoddy because of the location of the treatment plant. Also, the city bleeds its lines regularly and the water circulates more frequently because of increased demand in the city.

Sometimes the water “doesn’t look pretty,” said Eastport City Manager Kate Devonshire, but she drinks it. She said she too needs more information about LD 906 before taking a position on it. If the water district becomes tax exempt, the city would lose about $43,000 a year in revenue.

“What it boils down to is, what’s good for the whole city?” she said.

Nearly 200 people testified on the bill in February, including former Maine Senate President Beth Edmonds, the head of the Good Shepherd Food Bank, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Equal Justice and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Many of them said it’s long past time for the water problem to be fixed.

Lisa Sockabasin, a Passamaquoddy citizen and co-leader of Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness, told lawmakers at the public hearing that she and others haul “hundreds and hundreds of gallons of water each week to tribal citizens in need.” She said Mainers are likely familiar with the idea of generational poverty or generational wealth and she had one more to add to the list.

“Have you ever heard of living with a generational water crisis?” she asked members of the Judiciary Committee. “Where generation after generation, people experience dirty water coming from their faucets. Where young children grow up without access to clean drinking water and elders struggle to haul water into their homes.”

Last year, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention planned to install a carbon treatment system to improve water quality. But supply chain issues related to COVID-19 delayed the work, which is now set to be completed in June.

Nancy Beardsley, deputy director of the Maine CDC, told lawmakers in February that the problems with the water are two-fold. One is that it comes from shallow Boyden Stream Reservoir, which has “high natural organic content.” To disinfect the water, chlorine is added and sometimes, the biproducts produced by the chlorine exceed safe water standards.

In her testimony, Beardsley said the proposed legislation may not be necessary because she believes the system upgrades will make a big difference.

“We have high expectations that this project will result in significant improvements to water quality within the Pleasant Point distribution system and throughout the entire Passamaquoddy Water District’s distribution network,” she wrote.

Altvater, a student at Washington County Community College, said she plans to stay active to make sure the water problems get fixed. She worries about people who don’t drive or may not have the money to purchase water.

“It needs to be talked about,” she said. “It needs to be uncomfortable. It needs to be a hard conversation. Unless it is, nothing’s going to change.”

 

Spectrum News Article 

What tribal sovereignty means to Wabanaki people

Home » Our Departments » Wabanaki Public Health » Community & Land Wellness » Tribal Sovereignty Programs » About Tribal Sovereignty

Dan Neumann contributed reporting to this piece 

The sovereignty of the Wabanaki people is inherent and must be respected.

That’s what Indigenous advocates and other supporters talk about when they describe the need for LD 1626, a bill before the legislature that seeks to ensure Wabanaki Nations in Maine have the same rights that other tribes in the U.S. maintain over natural resources and taxation.

Such rights have long been denied to the Wabanaki because of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980. That jurisdictional arrangement with the state of Maine has prevented tribes from exercising their inherent sovereignty over their lands and has stifled the Nations economically, Wabanaki leaders say.

Now, Indigenous advocates and a broad coalition of supporters are pushing to rectify that historic injustice through a legislative campaign years in the making that promises to make LD 1626 one of the highest profile bills this session.

In advance of a public hearing Tuesday at 9 a.m. before the Judiciary Committee, during which hundreds will testify in favor of the bill, Beacon spoke with some Wabanaki people about what tribal sovereignty means to them and how they feel about the current legislative push.

Here’s what they said.

Lisa Sockabasin, Passamaquoddy citizen and co-CEO of Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness

Lisa Sockabasin | Courtesy photo

“Tribal sovereignty to me is about freedom. It is about having the opportunities to determine as a nation, as an Indigenous nation — I am a Passamaquody citizen — on our course and journey and direction within this complex landscape. Sovereignty allows us for that freedom, for that ability to self-determine our future. It’s our opportunity, I believe, for healing.”

“It feels different. It feels hopeful,” Sockabasin said of the current tribal sovereignty campaign. “And it feels hopeful because not only are Indigenous people at the table … it is also those non-Indigenous voices and people that are at the table with us that see this as an issue that impacts us, yes first, but also has an impact on them.”

“I will say that I’m not being naive. I remain hopeful while I understand the deep oppression within our systems. Oppression and racism is certainly alive in our system. That has not gone away.”

“We think about Maine as having a brand. Pristine environments. And what we know is that is not true. We know forever chemicals are present everywhere. We know that our water systems are also deeply contaminated,” Sockabasin said, pointing to the consequences of not having tribal sovereignty recognized, such as the water crisis on the Passamaquody reservation at Pleasant Point. A hearing on a bill to address that issue will take place Feb. 17 at 9 a.m. in the Judiciary Committee.

“Indigenous people need to be at the table, we need to be stewards. And if we had that from the beginning, we would not be dealing with many of the public health issues we have just in relation to water.”

Maria Girouard, Penobscot historian

“Sovereignty is actually a foreign word or concept to Wabanaki people and I always say that what it refers to is the inherent right to self-govern and take care of our own affairs and so I guess that’s what the attempt is hoping to do.”

“For me one of the things I find most disturbing is how, because of the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act and the Maine Implementing Act, [Wabanaki] people are held distinctly different than all the other tribes in the United States, so I really wonder about its constitutionality in that regard.”

Girouard said while the effort to reinforce tribal sovereignty is important, she also worries about the effect of the Wabanaki asking the state for recognition.

“Sovereignty is something that is supposed to be inherent, it’s not something that can be given or taken away. It can be ignored or not recognized or chipped away at and that’s what I fear everytime we put something new in front of the legislature. I fear that we’re giving them an opportunity to chip away at our sovereignty.”

“Almost in the act of fighting for that sovereignty, that recognition of sovereignty, it almost feels like it’s an act of being unsovereign.”

Lokotah Sanborn, Penobscot community organizer 

“In terms of LD 1626, this really works to undue 40 years of injustice that the tribes in Maine have experienced from the hands of the state of Maine and it works to put us on equal footing to the rights and obligations the rest of the tribes across the United States have.”

“Since the Settlement Act of 1980, there have been many policies that have been passed on the federal level that impact all the other tribes but do not pertain to the Maine tribes specifically because of the Settlement Act. We saw that with the Violence Against Women Act extension, that would cover native tribes and allow for jurisdiction within our communities that was blocked by the state of Maine.”

“This process has been very difficult for me personally and for a lot of folks in the community because there is this very heavy feeling of disillusionment that we have with the state of Maine, and I think that’s because of this long history of paternalism,” Sanborn said, noting Gov. Janet Mills’ opposition to the tribal sovereignty bill.

“Back in February of 2020 during the Judiciary Committee hearing, Janet Mills put forward that letter that referred to [tribal sovereignty proposals] as sweeping changes. She was pretty much, it read to me at least, terrified of what the implications would be for us to have equal treatment with the other tribes, which is just absurd.”

John Bear Mitchell, Penobscot citizen and University of Maine lecturer of Wabanaki Studies

John Bear Mitchell | Courtesy photo

“Speaking from the perspective of education, our way of life was stripped from us. In forced assimilation through boarding school and efforts to ‘educate the Indian,’ education became a weapon that was against us. It was a weapon to destroy who we were. It was a weapon to strip us of our language, to strip us of our way of knowing, to strip us of our history, and to make us repel our ancestors and become disgusted with them.”

“The boarding schools went away but the attitudes still exist to this day. So, for me, tribal sovereignty means that we have the right to explore who we want to be, without any interference from the government. We can take a stand for sovereignty in our education and use it to better who we are.”

“The state of Maine discriminates against us economically, but if this bill passes, it would put us on a level playing field. Keeping in mind we’re never going to go back to who our ancestors were. But we could put some of those resources towards these things that make us who we are and to maintain those things that are embedded within our language and ceremony.”

Top photo: Passamaquoddy Pleasant Point Reservation | Kylie Tompkins, Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness

Article by Maine Beacon

My Trip on the Colorado River!

by Saige Purser, Our Future Generations Division Director

Ever since I became a whitewater rafting guide, I’ve wanted to raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. This feat usually does not come easy for a private boater. You must apply for a permit or have someone invite you to join their trip. It also requires about a month off work.  

This year I was lucky to be asked to join a trip, and WPHW supported me through this opportunity! This was a 25-day trip with 16 people: putting on at Lee’s Ferry and taking out at the Diamond Creek, 225 miles downstream. There was a lot to do in preparation for the trip including buying gear, finding ways to transport it to Arizona, and preparing mentally for the unknown. 

It’s hard to put into words what the experience meant to me. It is, for most, a once in a lifetime opportunity. Being disconnected from everything outside of our group was amazing– there was no scrolling Instagram, no news updates, and no emails! 

My favorite part of the trip was feeling the connection to the place and seeing the Indigenous Representation of the Dine, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai, Paiute, Zuni, Yavapai-Apache, whose territory we were in during the trip. There were pottery shards, petroglyphs, pictographs, granaries, and remains of housing structures. It was beautiful to see. Also, I had fry bread on the first night on the river! 

I had an incredible experience; the hiking was breathtaking, and the rapids were huge! We had one raft flip at the mile marker 209 rapid. Everyone was safe and it was pretty epic! Having never rowed a raft before, it was fun to experience it on the Colorado River. I look forward to more amazing opportunities, and hopefully, I can go back to do it again! 

< Go back to Latest News

Millinocket Marathon and Half returns, bringing economic support to the region

The marathon returned this year after going virtual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — After going virtual in 2020, the Millinocket Marathon and Half returned this year with an in-person race. Despite the below-freezing temperature in town Saturday, hundreds of runners and spectators took part in the event at Veterans Memorial Park.

The marathon race kicked off at 10 a.m. and the half marathon began at 10:10 a.m.

The Millinocket Marathon and Half was established in 2015 as a way to bring economic support to the town after the collapse of the region’s paper industry. There was no entry fee for race participants. Runners instead were asked to spend money in Millinocket to support the town.

Taylor Colangelo of Windham said she came to Millinocket to support her sister, who has run the race every year. Colangelo said her family is from the Millinocket area.

“It brings a lot of joy to us as a family who grew up here and we like to bring people here who we care about,” Colangelo said.

Sadie James won 1st place in the women’s division of the half marathon, and tenth overall. She finished the race with a time of 1:27:23.

“I just felt good, it was great weather … a little cold, but the people kept me going,” James said.

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness is located right next to the start and finish line on Penobscot Ave. The facility opened just a few months ago, but co-CEO Lisa Sockabasin said she was eager to get involved with this event.

“We knew being right here in the heart of Millinocket we had to be involved,” Sockabasin said.

Sockabasin said they provided the center as a place for people to warm up from the cold, or grab flavored teas and homemade granola bars.

Nyle Sockbeson is a member of the Penobscot Nation and also works at Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness. He presented a traditional smudge to offer safety and protection for the runners before the race began. He was joined by another member of the Penobscot Nation who recited a traditional prayer.

“It’s important for us to share our traditions at events like this so that non-native people can know that we’re still here,” Sockbeson said.

Sockabasin said they are already looking forward to being involved next year, and they hope to put a team of half-marathon runners together to represent Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness.

See News Center Maine article here

A new hub for Wabanaki women aims to share culture, teach, and support one another

The newly launched Wabanaki Women’s Economic Mobility Hub is supporting healing Indigenous women, their families, and communities.

The goal of the new effort of Wabanaki women’s talking circle is to identify and serve the needs and interests of Indigenous women all throughout Maine. It’s a safe cultural place, where they can share their needs, concerns, knowledge, and skills.

Some of the issues they have been discussing include:

  • An Indigenous place for child care services (child care was identified as the #1 need in the women’s circles)
  • A community farm where people can connect with the earth and grow vegetables (increasing food sovereignty and food security)
  • Guided trips to healing places like Mt. Katahdin and the sacred Penobscot River
  • The recent opening of the Center for Wabanaki Healing & Recovery (which puts culture, ceremony, language, and traditions at the heart of the recovery journey to support tribal members)

RELATED: New Wabanaki Healing and Recovery Center set to open this fall

During a women’s talking circle in Bangor on Tuesday morning, Indigenous women were making regalia, clothes they use for ceremonies.

“It’s a way to honor your womanhood, and honor the earth, and honor who we are as women,” said one of the women at the circle.

The women’s talking circle is made possible thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Maine Women’s Fund.

“Maine Women’s Fund partners with organizations statewide but we really saw an opportunity to partner with the Wabanaki communities to make sure that their voices were really raised,” said Kimberly Crichton, executive director at the Maine Women’s Fund.

“This is the only funding here in Maine that from this network that is going to an indigenous effort,” said Lisa Sockabasin, director of Programs & External Affairs at Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness and a citizen of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk.

One of the main goals of the overall effort is to find solutions to some of the economic barriers these women say are holding them back.

According to Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness, their communities experience unemployment rates 4 to 5 times higher than those who are not Native American.

“This is the only funding here in Maine that’s from this network that is going to an Indigenous effort,” Sockabasin said. “So this entire effort is about hearing those voices, hearing those voices of people that are often not reflected in those data sets, which is problematic for so many reasons.

The hub is a way to help Indigenous women to feel the power of their collective knowledge, “As well as make sure that we no longer remain invisible,” she said.

Sockabasin said state data do not reflect Indigenous people, so the women’s talking circle is also starting to collect their own data.

Like any other community, Sockabasin said some Indigenous people are also facing issues like substance use disorders, lack of childcare, food insecurity, to name a few.

The circle will continue to help Indigenous women raise those concerns and help find solutions.

Genevieve Doughty pushed for the creation of the hub. She said the main reason this Wabanaki women’s talking circle was created was to share stories and “be able to share what’s on our mind and what’s on our hearts, and maybe something that needs to be said that you would say it anywhere else.”

“To feel the power of our collective knowledge as well as making sure that we no longer remain invisible,” added Sockabasin.

Through the women’s talking circles, Wabanaki women have been identifying needs that will form the basis of new programs.

“To teach our children, teach, our nieces, our nephews, those who we take care of, there is lots of responsibility in that knowledge that we hold,” said Esther Sappier, another woman who participates in the circles.

The group of Indigenous women meets at least once a month.

WPHW Honored at 2021 Giraffe Awards

Earlier this month, Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness was selected as a recipient of honor at the 2021 Giraffe Awards. The award, granted to us by The Maine Children’s Alliance, honors community heroes who “stick their necks out” for Maine children, youth, and families.

“We are so pleased to honor this year’s award winners, who are doing so much right now to support and improve the lives of children and families in our state,” says MCA Executive Director Stephanie Eglinton. “In the midst of the ongoing public health and economic crisis, it is more important than ever to celebrate good news and honor the heroes among us.”

The Maine Children’s Alliance is a non-profit whose mission is to improve the lives of Maine Children through research, collaboration, and advocacy. The award was presented at the Maine Children Alliances’ annual Champions for Children Event on November 4th, 2021.

Click here to read the full press release! Click here to read more on The Maine Children’s Alliance blog.

Plansowes Dana wins The Local Impact Award

We would like to take a moment to congratulate our very own Plansowes Dana on her major achievement. Plansowes is one of 23 individuals to win The Local Impact award this year for her work on The Water Project. The Local Impact Award is a national award that acknowledges an individual or organization whose work has affected change or impacted health care on the local and/or Tribal level. Thank you and congratulations, Plansowes, for all your ongoing hard work!

Click here to learn more about The Water Project. Click here to read the full press release regarding the award.

Next: Lisa Sockabasin has led Wabanaki Public Health to grow at the speed of a startup

Lisa Sockabasin, a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe, has broad experience with tribal, state and federal governments, as well as nonprofits. In the 3.5 years she’s been with the organization, it’s grown from seven employees to about 100, with plans to hire 30 more people soon. She helped develop programs for clean water, housing, addiction and recovery services, violence prevention and food insecurity, among other issues.

Mainebiz: You’ve been credited with growing a nonprofit ‘at the speed of a startup’ and going from seven employees to about 100 employees. How do you manage this growth and keep the organization from getting stuck?

Lisa Sockabasin: During COVID, it’s a time of crisis, but also a time of learning. There’s opportunities for greater connections to culture, community, systems and services. We took advantage of greater funding opportunities and asked people, ‘What is it that you need to serve?’ and we started dreaming and creating.

It’s not all rainbows and lollipops. It’s really hard. It’s hard sometimes to be in a place that requires you to dream, be responsible and push for excellence. It’s hard to recondition ourselves to love, to go from a competition mindset to a collaboration mindset. We’re conditioned to scarcity, not abundance. When you allow the space for dreaming and deep knowing that we can achieve, we can do anything. That knowing, with a commitment to culture, is powerful.

LS: Our community has a complicated history with pandemics. The story goes that we die. So we were motivated to protect. The tribal communities took COVID very seriously.

The ‘colored paper’ project was simple but so effective. Members hung colored displays to show what they needed. Green meant ‘I’m good today.’ Blue meant ‘I need a connection’ that required a phone call or distanced visit to check in. Yellow meant ‘I need supplies.’ We could drive around and see what people needed. If it was as simple as toilet paper, we delivered toilet paper. If it was about unsafe, unclean drinking water coming into households, that was a big need for the community that we had to tackle and we did.

MB: What are the biggest health and wellness issues facing the Wabanaki community and why are they best served through your organization?

LS: We are the community. We are those impacted. We are those who hold the resiliency. We are those who hold the answers. Seventy percent of our organization is Wabanaki and that 70% is to be celebrated. The 30% that is not is also critical because it creates diversity that all organizations should strive for. Substance abuse disorder is something we are primed to respond to. We listen to our cultural values and learn that connection is needed the most for those issues. Connection to culture and love. When we include our community, the healing is greater.

LS: It’s about success and people. It’s hard to put a label on the best. We’re solving food insecurity, housing, youth leadership, environmental problems, violence. All of those things matter and don’t have a weight [attached to them]. The success of the people of Wabanaki Public Health and people dreaming every day is what matters.

By Jessica Hall – MaineBiz
Next: Lisa Sockabasin has led Wabanaki Public Health to grow at the speed of a startup
Photo/Fred Field

Wabanaki Health and Wellness receives $1.4M in federal funding

Wabanaki Health and Wellness, which provides behavioral health, housing support and other services to Wabanaki community members, has received $1.38 million build and improve public health and wellness services and treatment programs.

The funding, announced by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, was awarded through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s office for state, tribal, local, and territorial support. It will help the Wabanaki group respond to, and mitigate public health threats to improve the health of tribal communities across Maine.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for every Maine community to have robust public health infrastructure. This important funding for Wabanaki Health and Wellness will be a critical resource for Maine’s tribal communities and allow WHW to continue expanding health and wellness services across our state,” Collins and King said in a joint statement.

Wabanaki Health and Wellness previously received grants of $2.7 million and $1 million to expand public health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, the senators said.

The grant will cover $617,504 for opioid overdose prevention services, $265,000 for suicide prevention services, as well as other funds for data modernization and other efforts, Sockabasin said.

Established in 1996, Wabanaki Health and Wellness serves four federally recognized tribes located in five communities: the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, and the Penobscot Nation.

 

By Jessica Hall – MaineBiz
Wabanaki Health and Wellness receives $1.4M in federal funding

Dept. of Health and Human Services awards $1 million for COVID-19 vaccine access in Maine

 

PRESS RELEASE

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

8/12/2021

Contact:

Glendon Zernicke, Communications Coordinator, Wabanaki Public Health
Phone: 1.207.735.6745
Email: gzernicke@wabanakiphw.org

Lisa Sockabasin, Director, Wabanaki Public Health
Phone: 207.391.0994
Email: lsockabasin@wabanakiphw.org

 

Dept. of Health and Human Services awards $1 million for COVID-19 vaccine access in Maine
Maine’s indigenous and immigrant communities collaborate on COVID-19 vaccine outreach

8/12/2021. Bangor, ME – The US Department of Health and Human Services has awarded Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness (WPHW), Maine Access Immigrant Network (MAIN), New Mainers Public Health Initiative (NMPHI), Maine Community Integration (MCI), and Gateway Community Services Maine a $1 million grant to support local community-based workforce with the goal of increasing COVID-19 vaccine access. This novel partnership between Maine’s indigenous and immigrant communities builds a unique model of service delivery and direct outreach into Maine’s undervaccinated and medically underserved communities.

“We are excited for this opportunity as it is the first time that our organization will formally partner with one of Maine’s Indigenous community organizations. I believe that by combining our strengths and leveraging our statewide networks, we can strengthen our team’s COVID-19 outreach and education efforts in the community to ensure our neighbors’ safety and wellbeing and, ultimately, halt further spread of this virus in our community,” said Mohamud Barre, MAIN Executive Director.
Services supported by the grant award include face-to-face vaccine educational outreach, vaccine appointment assistance, and transportation assistance getting to a vaccination site. Additionally, the program intends to address persistent health disparities by offering support and resources to vulnerable communities, including racial and ethnic minority groups and individuals living in areas of high social vulnerability.

Lisa Sockabasin, Director of Wabanaki Public Health remarked on the partnership, “we know how to build systems that reach and protect our communities. Historically, government systems were not meant to serve indigenous communities or other people of color; often, the systems were set up to harm. We have had to work around that systemic legacy, and have done so through relationships – including building strong partnerships with our funders and holding the belief that our experience can help other vulnerable communities in Maine.”

“During the height of the pandemic, we reached out and offered help to other communities of color, sharing supplies, and developing opportunities for community-based organizations serving communities of color, in developing their own systems to access the resources available to serve their community. We understand the struggle. Together, we are stronger and can learn from each other,” added Sockabasin.

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness is the grant administrator and will assist in planning and execution of the work plan.
Fowsia Musse, Executive Director of Maine Community Integration, noted “both the Somali community and the Wabanaki community employ shared restorative model strategies, which means that many of our goals and visions will be on the same page. Additionally, Wabanaki families are matriarchal, which means women-led. Maine Community Integration also is woman-led. This will be a wonderful opportunity for both communities and groups.”

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority groups and individuals who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. A wide range of sociodemographic risk factors, including socioeconomic status, racial and ethnic minority status, income, household composition, and environmental factors, are significantly associated with COVID-19 incidence and mortality.

“When we learned that Maine had one of the worst racial disparities in COVID-19 cases in the nation, we realized action was needed. We knew we had the ability to help and share our experiences and resources to combat this,” said Ralph Cammack, Manager of WPHW Infectious Disease Division.

WPHW has been at the forefront of COVID-19 response efforts in Maine’s indigenous community and has assisted in leading a successful COVID-19 vaccination education and response program. They will draw on their experience in the Wabanaki community to lead the outreach effort in other minority communities in the state.

According to Abdulkerim Said, Executive Director of the partner organization New Mainers Public Health Initiatives. “This grant gives us the opportunity to counter the myths and conspiracy theories that cause vaccine hesitancy in our refugee and immigrant population – in particular, in our youth.”

The grant was awarded on July 31, 2021 for programming through July 20, 2022.

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About Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness
Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness (WPHW) provides community-driven, culturally centered public health and social services to all Wabanaki communities and people while honoring Wabanaki cultural knowledge, cultivating innovation, and fostering collaboration. Our values include: inclusivity, balance, and cultural centeredness. Wabanaki traditions, language, and culture guide our approach and describe the ways we live in harmony with each other and the land we collectively share. To learn more, please visit www.wabanakiphw.org

About Maine Access Immigrant Network
Maine Access Immigrant Network (MAIN): Founded by well-respected Somali-American community leader, Mohamud Barre, MAIN bridges access to health and social services for immigrants and refugees in Portland. The organization works to build a stronger multicultural community and to address refugee health literacy, health care enrollment, and coordination of health care benefits and non-clinical care. MAIN provides resource and referral information that is culturally and linguistically appropriate in English, Arabic, Somali, and French to ensure equal access to programs and services for new Mainers from Africa and the Middle East. Created in 2002 and expanded over time, MAIN established a CHW program seven years ago staffed with trained community members who have been battling COVID-19 with their communities. They maintain the ability to quickly hire and train new staff or to expand staffing hours for part-time individuals if awarded. As a community organization, staff at MAIN are largely made up of members of the communities served with a focus on diversity to best serve the immigrant/refugee population. Key Contact Information: Mohamud Barre, 207-233-6014, runta2012@hotmail.com. Mohamud will maintain overall responsibility for all activities related to MAIN’s subaward.

About Maine Community Integration
Maine Community Integration (MCI): MCI is committed to integrating New Mainers into their communities while respecting and uplifting their diverse cultures, identities, and traditions. MCI serves the interests of both immigrant and local communities by bridging gaps in mutual understanding to create social and systemic change. With an established and trained CHW staff, MCI has been integrated into community efforts surrounding COVID-19 and maintains the ability to increase part-time hours of workers or to hire and onboard new staff members in an expedited manner if awarded this grant. They anticipate utilizing the funds to increase the hours of their already trained CHW workers to allow for further community outreach with already established and trusted individuals. Key Contact Information: Fowsia Musse, 207-576-6329, fowsiam@hotmail.com. Fowsia will maintain overall responsibility for all activities related to MCI’s subaward.

About New Mainers Public Health Initiative
New Mainers Public Health Initiative (NMPHI): NMPHI aims to empower, inform, and educate new Mainers about preventive health measures through developing the capacity to mobilize community partnerships in identifying and solving health problems in order to bridge the gap in health care service delivery and decrease health disparities. NMPHI works with underserved demographics by providing several services including a CHW program and has been at the forefront of COVID-19 testing and education in refugee/immigrant communities in Lewiston throughout the pandemic. As a well-established organization with trained CHWs from the community served, NMPHI is able to hire and train or expand hours of part-time staff as needed. Key Contact Information: Abdulkerim Said, 207-891-9888, asaid@nmphi.org. Abdulkerim will maintain overall responsibility for all activities related to NMPHI’s subaward.

About Gateway Community Services Maine
Gateway Community Services Maine (GCSM): GCSM seeks to encourage, support, and build healthy connections within oneself and others in order to promote vibrancy and well-being, along with welcoming communities where all people feel accepted, valued, and have a sense of belonging. GCSM provides community building, civic engagement, and wellness services targeted to, and led by, the New Mainer immigrant, refugee, asylee, and asylum-seeking populations. With four full-time CHWs, and two community resource coordinators, GCSM is looking to invest further in their community health work which has already planned and hosted several vaccine clinics in both Portland and Lewiston, prioritizing outreach to the new Mainer community. Key Contact Information: Kate Fahey, 978-761-4979, kate.fahey@gatewaycommunityservice.org. Kate will maintain overall responsibility for all activities related to GCSM’s subaward.

Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness hosts first Tribal Leaders Convening in Millinocket

Throughout the history of our people, we have faced a long and arduous battle against addiction in our communities. However, yesterday we, as Wabanaki peoples, were able to breathe a sigh of relief. At our first Tribal Council Convening, we brought leaders together from Wabanaki tribes throughout the state to celebrate the fruits of our decade-long dream of creating the Wabanaki Healing & Recovery Center. 

“We’ve had a lot of addictions, a lot of problems that come from that and now our people and all our tribes have a place to come,” Chief Elizabeth Dana of the Passamaquoddy at Sipayik said.  

Expected to open for services this fall, our brand-new Wabanaki Healing & Recovery Center will serve as a cultural refuge for our people who look to keep ties of their culture close while receiving guidance and support on their road to recovery. 

“The Lodge supports those in recovery by supporting their family and friends, their primary support network,” says Lisa Sockabasin, Executive Director of Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness. “The Lodge emphasizes family reunification and supports and provides childcare for those participating in the outpatient programming.” 

To view photos and videos from yesterday’s convening, head over to News Center Maine, WABI, or WVII!

Woliwon / Wə̀liwəni / Wela’lin / Thank You!

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness Participated in the 3rd Annual Opioid Response Summit

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness participated in the 3rd Annual Opioid Response Summit on Thursday, July 15. The annual summit is part of the state’s commitment to fighting the opioid epidemic, and convenes leaders from around Maine to share ideas, strategies, and best practices to help Maine people affected by this crisis.

The summit’s theme, “Perseverance, Prevention and Promise” reflects the resolve of our state to continue to work together to promote and achieve wellness and recovery in all communities across our great state.

Watch the Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness 3rd Annual Opioid Response Summit Presentation Video

Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness unveils mobile food pantry

“So this is what today is about. Celebrating our culture and celebrating our food and celebrating connections to each other,” said Director Lisa Sockabasin.

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness unveiled their mobile food pantry Thursday.

The program aims to restore traditional Wabanaki food systems to support things like health, wellness, and community.

“When I think about sovereignty, I think about what it means is we protect what is sacred, and what is most sacred to me as a Wabanaki person is those relationships and the things that have sustained us,” said Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana.

Click here to read the full article and watch the video on WABI5

Learn more about our Mobile Food Pantry here. 

Letter: Penobscot Nation Youth Council Testifies In Support of Ban on Flavored Tobacco Products

The Penobscot Nation Youth Council are leaders in their community advocation for the health and wellbeing of their people. As part of their substance use prevention efforts, they host an annual color run for the community to participate in.  Credit: Manos Photography

This letter was posted on behalf of the Penobscot Nation Youth Council.

June 1, 2021 

The Penobscot Nation Youth Council came together to share our voice about commercial tobacco prevention focusing on flavored tobacco products that aim to hook kids. Jayden Love and Eben Francis testified on LD 1550: An Act To End the Sale of Flavored Tobacco Products on May 7, 2021. Here are pieces of our testimonies: 

“Our traditional tobacco has been used by Penobscots and Indigenous people since time immemorial as a medicine with cultural and spiritual importance. But traditional tobacco has been tainted by the tobacco industry. Chemicals are poured into the tobacco to make it more addicting and flavorful.” 

“In today’s world Nicotine and tobacco products are everywhere. According to truthiniative.org 16.1% of American Indian and Alaska Native middle schoolers use e-cigarettes. As if that statistic wasn’t large enough 40.4% of American Indian and Alaska native high school students use e-cigarettes.” 

As teens and young adults of the Penobscot Nation, we’ve grown up learning tobacco is used as a way to give thanks. It hurts to see something of cultural significance being used to exploit other young people, like ourselves. We see our peers, as young as 13, using commercial tobacco products such as e-cigarettes. Commercial tobacco companies use enticing flavors and fun names in e-cigarettes to attract and hook kids. This is scary for many reasons: the likelihood of nicotine addiction, the risks of nicotine on the adolescent brain and body, and the many other unknown health affects around using commercial tobacco products. 

Many teens use e-cigarettes without knowing there is nicotine even in it, adding to the growing popularity of use in teen culture. Some of us can recall when vape products hit the market and it seemed like every high schooler had one in their hand. Bathrooms were referred to as the “vape room” or “Juul room”. As more flavors hit the market like mint, cucumber, mango, and many more—these flavors became more appealing to youth. Big commercial tobacco companies continue to target youth with flavors, new products, appealing advertising, fancy packaging and smoke shops that look like candy shops from the outside. 

The health and wellbeing of the next seven generations is our future, but flavored tobacco products are luring and hooking another generation. It’s time to end the sale of flavored tobacco, keep tobacco sacred. Our voices need to be heard. 

Wə̀liwəni (thank you),
Penobscot Nation Youth Council

Click here to download a PDF copy of their letter

New Bangor recovery center will help Indigenous men with substance use disorder

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness Executive Director Sharon Jordan cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Opportunity House, a recovery center for Wabanaki men. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

A recovery home that opened in Bangor on Monday will help Indigenous men with substance use disorder as they seek to rehabilitate and transition.

Male members of Maine’s Wabanaki tribes will be able to live at the Opportunity House at 123 Essex St. beginning around mid-May, pending the issuance of an occupancy permit from the city of Bangor, Wabanaki Healing and Recovery Interim Director Lisa Sockasbasin said. Seven people will be able to stay in the fully furnished building at one time.

The project has been years in the making, led by Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness with input from American Indigenous organizations and tribes across the state. The home will serve members of the five federally recognized tribes in Maine: the Penobscot Nation, Houlton Band of Maliseets, the Passamaquoddy tribes at Indian Township and Pleasant Point, and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs.

The home will be a sister organization to a larger facility Wabanaki Public Health is slated to open in Millinocket, Sockasbasin said.

Lisa Sockabasin, Interim Director of Wabanaki Healing and Recovery, speaks at the opening of the Opportunity House recovery center. Sockabasin hosted the event. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Native Americans suffer from one of the highest rates of substance use disorder, including alcoholism and addiction to other illicit drugs, of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. A survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that about 10 percent of Native American adults had a substance use disorder compared to about 8 percent for all American adults.

Maulian Dana, tribal ambassador for the Penobscot Nation, tied those historic issues with the oppression Native groups have long faced in the United States, ranging from being forced off their land by European settlers to the cultural destruction caused by forced attendance in boarding schools that discouraged Native customs.

“The intergenerational trauma, the historic oppression of our people, can be overwhelming,” Dana said. “And it really leads to those unhealthy behaviors and cycles of dysfunction.”

As the project was developed, creating an environment in which Wabanaki people could feel comfortable was vital, said Clarissa Sabattis, chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. The home is adorned with symbols of Indigenous culture, including Indigenous art and several crafts. Staff will also serve Indigenous food to occupants.

Sabattis said she saw the center as part of an effort by Wabanaki leaders across Maine to develop institutions to assist with the unique struggles of their communities.

Charlene Virgilio, director of operations at Four Directions Development Corporation, speaks at the grand opening of the Opportunity House, a recovery center for Wabanaki men. Virgilio described the opening as a “day of hope for our people.” Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

“This is self-determination. This is why we are fighting for those rights, because these are the things we should be able to do,” Sabattis said. “We should be the ones taking care of our own people.”

About 30 people attended Monday’s event introducing the Opportunity House, with most coming from the Wabanaki tribes and Indigenous organizations from across the state. Several spoke as they ate a dish made from moose meat.

For many speakers, the opening was a joyous occasion that represents part of efforts by Native groups to fight substance use disorder within their communities.

“This is a day of hope for our people,” said Charlene Virgilio, director of operations at Four Directions Development Corporation. “Today marks a critical step, but just one of many.”

Wabanaki Health merger aims to expand its public health and recovery role in its community

Wabanaki Public Health and Wabanaki Health and Wellness merged to form Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness to serve its four-member tribes

BANGOR, Maine — As the coronavirus pandemic continues into 2021, some good news is coming to Maine’s Indigenous population. On Tuesday, it was announced Wabanaki Public Health and Wabanaki Health and Wellness will merge to form Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness (WPHW).

“What this allows for is for us to come together and offer a more comprehensive set of services and programs for our communities to be well.,” Director of Wabanaki Public Heath Lisa Sockabasin said Wednesday.

COVID-19 has impacted all of Maine and the four-member tribes of the Wabanaki. Sockabasin said Indeginedous people know when a pandemic comes, they get hit hard.

“We knew that with pandemics, throughout history, Ingenious populations were impacted greater,” Sockabasin added.

This new merger will help members from the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac, and Maliseet tribes in different ways broken down into three divisions:

First, Wabanaki Public Health will provide public health services and disease prevention programs.

Second, Wabanaki Health and Wellness will provide direct wellness programs and social services, like its crisis line, added last fall.

The crisis line is monitored 24-hours a day by staff from Wabanaki Health and Wellness.

Third, Wabanaki Healing and Recovery will provide medication-assistance treatment, recovery housing, substance use treatment, and recovery support.

Sharon Jordan, the Executive Director of Wabanaki Health and Wellness, said the wide range of services that will be offered under this new organization was a goal of the merger.

“From behavior health, peer support, some supportive housing, HIV prevention,” she added. “This merger is giving so much help to the future, that I never thought was possible.”

One reason why the Wabanaki are struggling during the pandemic is a lack of infrastructure to support tribe members if they are sick or need medical attention.

Sockabasin said the Wabanaki have great funding streams at the state, federal, and private levels to expand its infrastructure. The plan is to add a healing lodge and recovery center to the Wabanaki Health and Wellness Center in Bangor.

Wabanaki group buys Millinocket’s Pelletier Loggers Restaurant for tribal addiction treatment facility

Wabanaki Public Health has purchased the former Pelletier Loggers Family Restaurant Bar and Grill at 57 Penobscot Ave. (pictured in 2010) in Millinocket for a substance use disorder treatment center. The organization has received a federal grant to begin offering services after the first of the year. Credit: John Clarke Russ / BDN

Wabanaki Public Health is buying the former Pelletier Loggers Family Restaurant Bar and Grill in Millinocket to use as a substance use disorder treatment center for members of the four federally recognized tribes in Maine.

The organization also has bought a house in town, not far from the former restaurant at 57 Penobscot Ave., and will convert that into a sober residence that is expected to house between 10 and 15 people in recovery.

 

Wabanaki Public Health is waiting to hear if it will be awarded grant money from the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to begin offering services next year, according to Lisa Sockabasin, director of programs and external affairs.

The programs offered in the new facility will be rooted in Maine’s tribal cultures and would take advantage of the center’s proximity to Katahdin. Programming might include Native practices such as smudging, pipe, naming and healing ceremonies and, eventually, the use of a sweat lodge, Sockabasin said.

Medication-assisted treatment also would be available in Millinocket, according to Sockabasin.

“Mount Katahdin is a sacred, spiritual place for us,” she said. “We believe that being near the mountain and incorporating outdoor activities into our treatment programs will help people connect with their tribal culture.”

The organization will need to raise money to renovate the former restaurant.

The treatment center would be the latest facility in Millinocket aimed at helping people in recovery. A community recovery center that connects people with peer support and treatment services as well as a sober home for women opened in the town this year.

The Millinocket Planning Board last month approved a change of use for the former restaurant so that the project may move forward as soon Wabanaki Public Health has closed on it later this month.

The Pelletiers, who starred in the Discovery Channel reality TV show “American Loggers,” which ran from 2009-11 and chronicled the large Franco-American family’s challenges running a logging business in the unforgiving northern Maine woods, opened the restaurant in 2010. It closed in August 2015, with owner Eldon Pelletier citing a lack of traffic downtown as the primary reason.

In 2017, it was repurposed as Turn The Page Bookstore and Wine Bar. It closed 1 1/2 years later.

The building most recently was used for about a year to temporarily house the Millinocket Memorial Library while its permanent space underwent a $1.7 million renovation. Books and other materials were moved in late June back to the library, which is set to reopen later this month.