If I could trace my family tree back to the earliest generations in my line, I would, I imagine, find them living close to the land, sustaining themselves amongst the wild things and more at one with the earth that held them. Perhaps they could be called “Indigenous” to the land they were living on, the first peoples of that specific land and waterway.

Fast-forward more than 10,000 years. I am a 57-year-old white-bodied first-generation American. My father immigrated to the U.S. from Canada and his ancestors originally from France. My mother’s mother arrived from Lithuania. All were seeking a better life, and headed directly to the paper mill along the banks of the Androscoggin River in Western Maine.

Recently, I have become much more aware of the ignorance prevalent in the narrative taught in schools, and featured throughout our culture, about the “discovery of America.”

The history lessons took place in institutions deeply embedded in American life; public schools. I do not believe that what was taught to us was honest, balanced nor complete. U.S. history was spoken from the perspective of European classist nobility. Scholars of the day, imported from Europe, denied access to literacy to lower classes, women and people of color. The effect was to delay empowerment and to obscure institutional oppression, marginalization and control so that people could be more effectively exploited.

Records begin with the arrival of Europeans, ignoring the living traditions and oral history here for at least 10,000 years prior to colonization. There is little mention of a thriving confederacy with many nations and governing systems that lived and continue to live symbiotically here as one with the landscapes, seasons and their kin.

Here in Maine, I reside in Wabanaki territory, named for the first light of the rising sun, on land once cared for by the “people of the dawn.”


I am not native to this land. Europeans, specifically the French and British, found this land and the English colonizers did what they could to claim what they deemed a new discovery, calling it New England.

Dropping anchor near what was named Plymouth, Massachusetts, Europeans met complex societies of tens of thousands of people, specific tribes associated with their own individual traditions, languages, fishing and hunting grounds and ways of being. They lived in organized systems of trade, cooperation, seasonal migration, reciprocity and deep respect.

In the beginning, many tribal leaders did all they could to introduce these uninvited guests to their ways and traditions so as to build a life that could possibly work, sharing resources and access to hunting and fishing grounds. This is known as the reciprocity principle. At first, they shared ideas, practices, seeds, corn, agreements and even space. For hundreds of years, the First Nations of this land did their best to cohabitate, co-operate and co-exist.

Within a generation and progressively within additional generations, colonists broke trust with the first nations. Treaties were broken. False trials with biased juries led to imprisonment and death to many leaders and their kin. Enslavement became prevalent and bounties were given for the scalps of the tribespeople here as paid for by the British leaders and government. The taking of the “King Pine” for England’s ship masts stripped out the forest along river banks and coast lines.

Ships were filled with ancient trees, with migratory fish and with “Indian” slaves for trade in the West Indies and back in England.

Greed, power and control propelled the British Empire, spilling upon the land, directed by the King and his designated officials in the “new world.”


Deadly diseases were introduced. About 90% of the Indigenous population in New England died of disease in the years leading up to 1620. When it became clear that taking all land wouldn’t be easy, blankets infected with smallpox were given as gifts.

Land was taken. The rivers, the life-blood of the Abenaki, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Nations, were dammed with devastating effects.

I can only imagine what it was like to witness the disregard for reciprocity, balance, caretaking and humanity. It must have been a nightmare to both witness and experience the onslaught of the taking.

From the mid-1800s, the official policy of the U.S. government toward the Native Americans was to confine each tribe to a specific parcel of land called a reservation. The Wabanaki Confederacy, who once lived and thrived in a semi-nomadic way upon a broad scope of land and waterways, became confined to concentrated reservations. The population was reduced by 90% by disease, enslavement, bounty and way bounty, war, disease and enslavement.

Fast-forward again to 2023.

I walk the land in “Westbrook,” in the open spaces, the river trails, the railroad tracks, the “Sebago to the Sea” trail, the parks, the land trusts. I think about who once lived here, what it was like, how they lived in a well-practiced diplomacy in cooperation with all of life.


I imagine villages near the river where crops were grown within the rich soils of the floodplain and on the rises around the river. I see the birch bark canoes traveling up and down the waterways, spreading out their impact and being careful to keep the giving and taking balanced. I think about who is still living here amongst us, the kin from the original peoples without their extended kin, without proper and just representation, without reparation, without acknowledgement, without amends.

I look at the signage so proudly displayed and hang my head. No mention of the true ancestors of this land. It all begins with English settlement, as if that is when the historical calendar and worthy documentation begins.

I come across a journal article that brings me to my knees and has become the inspiration for this writing, this study and this desire to do something, anything to make more right what feels so off, so we can begin to heal the ills that fester in our society. The research paper discusses how the kin of the river I live near were treated and how the river was poisoned and blocked by Colonel Westbrook as a means to wipe out the peoples living here.

There were many events, attempts at resolution and conflicts not documented or known through the standard and typical record of colonial history. Thanks to scholars Lisa Brooks and Cassandra Brooks, we have access to an accurate narrative rather than one that dismisses or deletes the documented attempts at native rights, resolutions and incredible resiliency.

One can learn the specifics regarding the land and river here, the significant role Chief Polin played for decades in honoring his kin along the Presumpscot River, the river they belonged to, and the ways in which Colonel Westbrook continuously defied the governor’s requests and treaties agreed upon between the Wabanaki leaders and himself.

To find no reference of the original peoples of this land, to find no recognition of human society here prior to “early settlers,” I find disheartening, dishonest and disgraceful. To eliminate mention of peoples that lived here and belonged to this land for thousands of years is a gross attempt at erasure. Signage may tell us who the first settlers were to an area but that does not make it so.


The truth remains that the Wabanaki people of Maine are one resilient, strong, powerful, spiritual people.

In spite of attempts at extermination, they lived as one, joined together and today do all they can to rebuild all that colonizers attempted to eliminate, including their families, languages, practices, lands, traditions, spirituality and dignity. These things were, in fact, not taken away. The tribes of Maine are a strong group of people that are here now and always will be.

I am interested in transforming our naming and therefore our signage. Who lived here until Europe showed up on the shore and made their presence known? I want the signage to accurately portray the true history, to tell us how hard the Indigenous people tried to work it out, to protect the land, the animals, the fish and their kin. I want signage to honor the first peoples and use the proper place names referred to by those that belonged to that space.

Witnessing the Wabanaki Nations’ State of the Tribe Address on last Thursday moved me to further conviction and action in being a real-time ally to Wabanaki Nations.

I know we can do better. It’s time.

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