Wabanaki Public Health & Wellness host Cultural Tourism Assessment Conference

Wabanaki Public Health & 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