Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness Executive Director Sharon Jordan cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Opportunity House, a recovery center for Wabanaki men. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

A recovery home that opened in Bangor on Monday will help Indigenous men with substance use disorder as they seek to rehabilitate and transition.

Male members of Maine’s Wabanaki tribes will be able to live at the Opportunity House at 123 Essex St. beginning around mid-May, pending the issuance of an occupancy permit from the city of Bangor, Wabanaki Healing and Recovery Interim Director Lisa Sockasbasin said. Seven people will be able to stay in the fully furnished building at one time.

The project has been years in the making, led by Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness with input from American Indigenous organizations and tribes across the state. The home will serve members of the five federally recognized tribes in Maine: the Penobscot Nation, Houlton Band of Maliseets, the Passamaquoddy tribes at Indian Township and Pleasant Point, and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs.

The home will be a sister organization to a larger facility Wabanaki Public Health is slated to open in Millinocket, Sockasbasin said.

Lisa Sockabasin, Interim Director of Wabanaki Healing and Recovery, speaks at the opening of the Opportunity House recovery center. Sockabasin hosted the event. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Native Americans suffer from one of the highest rates of substance use disorder, including alcoholism and addiction to other illicit drugs, of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. A survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that about 10 percent of Native American adults had a substance use disorder compared to about 8 percent for all American adults.

Maulian Dana, tribal ambassador for the Penobscot Nation, tied those historic issues with the oppression Native groups have long faced in the United States, ranging from being forced off their land by European settlers to the cultural destruction caused by forced attendance in boarding schools that discouraged Native customs.

“The intergenerational trauma, the historic oppression of our people, can be overwhelming,” Dana said. “And it really leads to those unhealthy behaviors and cycles of dysfunction.”

As the project was developed, creating an environment in which Wabanaki people could feel comfortable was vital, said Clarissa Sabattis, chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. The home is adorned with symbols of Indigenous culture, including Indigenous art and several crafts. Staff will also serve Indigenous food to occupants.

Sabattis said she saw the center as part of an effort by Wabanaki leaders across Maine to develop institutions to assist with the unique struggles of their communities.

Charlene Virgilio, director of operations at Four Directions Development Corporation, speaks at the grand opening of the Opportunity House, a recovery center for Wabanaki men. Virgilio described the opening as a “day of hope for our people.” Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

“This is self-determination. This is why we are fighting for those rights, because these are the things we should be able to do,” Sabattis said. “We should be the ones taking care of our own people.”

About 30 people attended Monday’s event introducing the Opportunity House, with most coming from the Wabanaki tribes and Indigenous organizations from across the state. Several spoke as they ate a dish made from moose meat.

For many speakers, the opening was a joyous occasion that represents part of efforts by Native groups to fight substance use disorder within their communities.

“This is a day of hope for our people,” said Charlene Virgilio, director of operations at Four Directions Development Corporation. “Today marks a critical step, but just one of many.”