New center provides Maliseet seniors with a place of their own

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HOULTON, Maine – The elders of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians now have a place to call their own.

The tribe opened a new elder center on Dec. 5 with a special ceremony and reception for the elders and guests. Many people attended the event, which took place in the morning, Chief Brenda Commander said.

“It went wonderfully, the elders were happy and everybody was happy. The center is so beautiful. They just looked so content and settled in even though we just got it completed and just opened it,” Commander.

Imelda Perly, the tribe’s Pipe Carrier and a linguist who teaches the Maliseet language, blessed the center with a prayer and smudging. There were speeches and food – fruit and pastries and other mid-morning snacks – at the reception.

The single story building has two bathrooms, several bedrooms that will be used for crafts, or whatever the elders want, Commander said.

“When you walk in, there’s a very open large main room where they can put tables. In the facing wall there’s a big stone fireplace. It’s just very roomy and light and open. It sits on a piece of property where the elders could expand in the back with a deck or patio. Also, I was thinking they probably would like a garden and there’s room for that, too,” Commander said.

The back of the building faces the beautiful Meduxnekeag River, which flows through the riverine tribe’s land. There are nearby woods.

The tribe has been working on the project since before the snow melted in the spring and there were several roadblocks along the way, Commander said.

“We all came together as a community to figure out how to get past all these obstacles that were in our way, such as the location and getting permits and the actual design for the building. We did all that as a community and not just a particular little group. It was so important and everybody wanted to see this happen. We all helped to figure out how to do it before the snow came around again,” Commander said.

(And they succeeded just in the nick of time – temperatures were hovering around 6 degrees Fahrenheit during the first week of December with snow expected any time.)

One of the obstacles the planners faced had to do with the location of the elders’ center. If the center had been located in the tribe’s housing community, as originally planned, the tribe would have had to obtain various building and water permits from the town because the community’s water main line and sewer is tied into the town’s facility.

“We ended up moving it away from there in order not to be stalled by all the permits,” Commander said.

And rather than seeking funding, which would have caused more delay, the tribe paid for the project’s $100,000-plus price tag from its own tribal revenue funds.

“It’s such a beautiful building. I’m so glad the elders are pleased and they feel like they finally have their place where they can do crafts or just socialize or play cards or whatever they decide with the elders’ coordinator,” Commander said.

The center will be open five days a week and lunches will be available each day.

Now that the elder center project is done, the tribe is looking forward to the next project – a $900,000 health center.

The tribe received a $250,000 grant in October from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program for the project and now members are waiting to hear whether the tribe has won a matching grant of $650,000 from Housing and Urban Development.

They won’t have to wait long, according to Elton Jones, HUD’s project manager for the Indian grants program.

Notifications went out to the tribes on Dec. 8 that the review process was complete and the grantee decisions have been sent to the appropriate Congress members, Jones said.

“It usually takes Congress maybe a week or two. They send us a message saying we can release the contract to the successful applicants. Usually it’s the congressional people who announce who gets the grants. But we can’t divulge any information until the congressional people and the tribes are notified,” Jones said.

Jones expects the grant awards to be announced before Christmas.

“Unfortunately, we don’t get much money and we always get double the amount of requests of the money we have available so we really can’t fund everyone and that’s always an issue every year, but we do get some pretty good projects in and we do have some again this year.”