With the appointment of five people to serve on the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission, the work of unearthing the stories of abuse imposed on Indian children in the state’s earlier child welfare system and healing the lingering trauma can begin.
At a press conference hosted by the Penobscot Indian Nation on Indian Island on Tuesday, December 17, the Truth & Reconciliation (TRC) Selection Panel announced the names of the five commissioners that have been selected, according to a media release from the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission. TRC Interim Director Carolyn Morrison said that the 13-member Selection Panel had unanimously chosen Matt Dunlap, Old Town, Maine; gkisedtanamoogk, Otter Clan, Mashpee Wampanoag, Orono, Maine; Gail Werrbach, Bangor, Maine; Sandy White Hawk, Sicangu Lakota of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Carol Wishcamper, Freeport, Maine.
The TRC is a first-of-its-kind partnership in the United States between tribal and state governments to deal with the trauma of a negligent and brutal government child welfare system that separated Indian children from their families and communities into often abusive foster care. In May 2011, the chiefs of the Penobscot Indian Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik and Indian Township, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, and the Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians, and Maine Gov. Paul LePage signed a Declaration of Intent to Create a Maine/Wabanaki Trust and Reconciliation Process that will heal the past and create the best possible child-welfare system for Wabanaki children. The declaration promised that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be convened as part of the process. Tuesday’s announcement fulfilled the first part of the agreement signed by the six collaborating governments.
Lisa Sockabasin, director of the Office of Minority Health at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and a member of the Selection Panel, said the panel work “was incredibly rewarding. We came together as individuals who didn’t know each other for the most part, and we were able to solidify as a group and complete this task of choosing, by consensus, a commission of five people that all the signatories agreed upon. We took this work very seriously. We all understood the critical nature of our role within the larger TRC process. I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity.”
The work to organize a tribal-state TRC started in 2008. It has been carried out by the Truth and Reconciliation Convening Group, individuals representing Maine Tribal Child Welfare, Maine State Department of Health and Human Services Office of Child and Family Services, and staff from the Muskie School of Public Service, American Friends Service Committee, and Wabanaki Health and Wellness.
Esther Attean, TRC staff person working through the Muskie School of Public Service has been a key participant since the beginning. “When the Convening group researched other Commission selection processes and began creating a process that would work for this TRC, we understood the magnitude of this task,” Attean said. “We also knew that the Selection Panel was going to face challenges being such a large group whose members represented diverse entities and were not centrally located geographically. I admire them for not only completing this task, but for having done it with the utmost respect and reverence for those that applied. I applaud the integrity of this group.”
Other Selection Panel members included Libby McCullum, representing the Maine judicial system; Kimberly Monaghan-Derrig representing the Judiciary Committee of the Maine Legislature; Beth O’Connor representing the Health and Human Services Committee of the Maine Legislature; Sockabasin, representing the Executive Branch of State Government; Janice Stuver, representing the Maine Attorney General’s Office, Stephanie Bailey, representing the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkmikuk; Norman Bernard, representing the Aroostook Band of Micmacs; Mark Chavaree, representing the Penobscot Indian Nation; Tina Downing, representing the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik; Connie Smith, representing the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians; Molly Newell and Martha 3 Proulx, representing the TRC Convening Group; and Paul Thibeault, representing the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission. With the selection of the commissioners, the panel’s work is now complete.
The commissioners will be formally sworn in during the first quarter of 2013. The Commission has 27 months from the date of its first meeting to complete its work with the possibility of petitioning the six governments for an extension of up to six more months. More information about the TRC is available at http://mainetribaltrc.org/.