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Indigenous Peoples’ Day: A day to honor, reflect, and learn

Monday is Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Maine Audubon is taking the holiday to honor, reflect, and learn in order to bolster action we will continue to take in support of Wabanaki people, communities, and, most importantly, sovereignty.

We start the “official” holiday by honoring the original human inhabitants of these lands and waters we all love and now call home. The Abenaki, Penobscot, Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy have been stewards and advocates for wildlife and habitat here for more than ten thousand years. They have brought up hundreds of generations of youth to act and think many generations ahead. Their leaders and elders instilled values such as respect, relationship, reciprocity, and responsibility, especially with regard to the natural resources around them. The people were attentive observers who tracked population trends of other species, seasonal patterns, and the environmental changes happening around them. While terms such as environmental literacy, sustainability, community science, phenology, climatology, etc. are much newer, those ways of knowing have been here as long as people have. We honor the Wabanaki and Abenaki people among us today, and express our deepest gratitude for your knowledge, legacy, and continued resilience, all of which guide and inspire Maine Audubon’s own mission and work.

That incredible resilience, especially of today’s Wabanaki leaders, is also cause for our reflection today. We reflect most on the last State legislative session, especially as we must look ahead with continued hope and renewed resolve. While there was some notable progress last session, the Governor’s veto continues to be a barrier to Wabanaki sovereignty, federal benefits, and other rights spelled out clearly in the original Maine State Constitution in 1820. Article X, Section 5 of that Constitution defines the terms of separation from Massachusetts and ensured that the rights and protections of the tribes, expressly the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot, were to be fully upheld by the new State. In 1875, Maine’s legislature and then its voters voted to officially redact sections of the original Constitution from printed copies. While Maine couldn’t change laws ensuring the rights of tribes and their citizens without consent of the Massachusetts legislature, it could at least hide them from most people’s view. Today, when our children’s teachers hand out or share links to “official” copies of the Maine Constitution, the students won’t read anything related to the specific rights and sovereignty of their Wabanaki peers and neighbors. It’s critical that we learn more and reflect on “The Redaction” now, as Maine voters consider Question 6 on the November 7 ballot – Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to require that all of the provisions of the Constitution be included in the official printed copies of the Constitution prepared by the Secretary of State?

At a program hosted by Maine Audubon last week, we learned more about Wabanaki-led efforts to confront unprecedented threats to our forests, most notably Emerald Ash Borer. This invasive insect has killed huge numbers of three species of trees native to what is now Maine. The Green Ash and White Ash which line many streets and neighborhoods throughout the state are dying in plain view. But it’s the Brown Ash, the species less familiar to many because of its specialized and soggy habitat, we should be most concerned about. Even beyond its significant ecological importance, this species is culturally and commercially critical to Wabanaki people and communities. Brown Ash is central to their Creation stories, and is the tree used in basket making traditions Wabanaki families still pass along and for which indigenous artisans of our region are world renowned. We are grateful for the innovative work and projects like Ash Protection Collaboration Across Wabanakik for sharing knowledge, hope, and actions we can take. As we learn about this issue from the experts closest to it, we’re excited to show our solidarity and support for Wabanaki-led conservation in written comments that support the proposed expansion of the quarantine area, which APCAW experts recommend. Public comments close at 5 pm on October 23, 2023.

Lastly, we hope that you have the opportunity to visit or take part in one of the many important public events happening Monday. Maine Audubon will be in Augusta with the Wabanaki Alliance, of which we are a proud member organization, for a rally in support of legislation that supports Wabanaki people and communities. Maine Audubon is also honored to partner with numerous Wabanaki leaders and advisors on conservation and education projects. We are so grateful for all of the important work those friends are doing to educate and engage us today and throughout the year.