For thousands of years before Europeans arrived, Indigenous people thrived within the borders of what we now call Maine. They continue today, in much smaller numbers, to be an inextricable part of the way of life here.

Simply put, you can’t know Maine without learning about the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Mi’kmaq, the four tribes known collectively as the Wabanaki, or people of the Dawn.

Yet, despite a 20-year-old law requiring lessons on the Wabanaki as part of Maine Studies curriculum, most students hear very little about their history and even less about the contributions Indigenous people make now to our culture, government and economy.

Fortunately, a report published this week, on Indigenous Peoples Day, offers a path for the state and schools to live up to the law — and help students understand fully where we are as a state and how we got here.

The report finds that while some schools have been able to add aspects of Wabanaki studies to their day, the law has been left largely unimplemented around the state.

There has also been, the report said, little guidance or enforcement by the state Department of Education. Though the report notes that the state has made some progress in recent years, including a summit on the issue last year and the formation of a committee by the education commissioner under Gov. Mills, it offers a series of recommendations for helping the state satisfy the letter of the law.


The law, for its part, could not be more clear. In Maine, K-12 students are required to learn about the history, culture, economy and government of the Wabanaki peoples. There is supposed to be statewide enforcement and assessment of the law, along with widespread and mandatory training for educators, completed with the aid of meaningful and compensated participation of Indigenous people.

When schools do teach kids about Indigenous culture and history, it reveals to them a portion of the state’s past they haven’t been exposed to enough. They start to understand the larger world and that it is the result of innumerable influences. They let go of easy, destructive stereotypes and embrace the full story of their state — their heritage.

And educators quoted in the report say students are energized when they hear a new perspective on the state’s history, and frustrated they hadn’t been told more.

Of course they are. They’ve walked through the Maine woods and played alongside its ancient rivers and streams. They know that the history of those places stretches back further than the Pilgrims and Columbus.

It’s eye-opening to learn that the history of your home starts back when the first humans migrated to North America and continues right up to today, as the descendants of those first peoples live, learn, work and play alongside everybody else in Maine — the state with the 21st-highest percentage of Indigenous people.

It is an integral part of the Maine story, and every Maine student should have the opportunity to learn it.



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