A mural representing symbols of Micmac culture is painted along a hallway of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs administrative offices in Presque Isle. Credit: Staff photo/Melissa Lizotte / Star-Herald

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Amelia Forman-Stiles of Blue Hill is a crisis services provider and a masters of social work student at the University of Maine.

In the mornings while I sip my coffee, I am aware that several thousand miles away in Ukraine, average citizens have bravely taken up arms to defend themselves, their country people, and their beloved land against invading Russia. The world has watched in horror as neighborhoods, parks, high-rises, churches, and hospitals are destroyed. The world has voiced deep respect for the people and their leader of this tiny country standing up against a leviathan such as Russia. We viscerally and intellectually understand what is at stake for the people of Ukraine and we root for them.

It shouldn’t be so challenging then, to recognize the similarities between the invasion in Ukraine and what happened on our own soil, here in Maine. The Passamaquoddy Tribe, Penobscot Nation, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, and Aroostook Band of Micmacs all lived as stewards of these lands long before colonizers invaded. The history books do not set us apart from countries like Russia and the devastations that humans can impose upon one another.

And we should not let ourselves be coddled by our faulty perceptions of timelines. Yes, colonization began 20 generations ago but it was less than a generation ago that Maine’s Indigenous children were still being torn from their families to be placed in federal assimilation schools where many died. And, Maine was one of the last states in the nation to give their Indigenous people the right to vote in state elections.

The thing with atrocities such as acts of genocide, dispossessment, and attempts of deculturization, is that the effects of these acts purposefully don’t target just one generation, the effects trickle down into many subsequent generations. It’s called generational trauma.

Although we can tell ourselves that “we” aren’t responsible for what our ancestors did, we must recognize that we are in a position to do whatever we can, right now, to right what was and what remains, wrong. The Wabanaki remain dispossessed of pretty much the entirety of their homeland and yet despite generations of betrayals and let downs, are still standing before the U.S. government to ask for recognition, reparations, reciprocity and justice. They are asking for so little in comparison to how much they have lost.

LD 1907, An Act to Review State Lands and Waterways That Have Sacred, Traditional or Other Significance to the Wabanaki Tribes, asks to establish a process to both identify these state-owned lands and to return them to the Wabanaki. Regaining use and stewardship of their lands will help Maine’s tribes, bands and nations to preserve and strengthen their cultures, heritage, and communities.

Having access to and stewardship of their sacred lands back, offers another avenue for potential healing — of the land and the people of the land. Stewardship and respect have always been the relationship between the Wabanaki and the land they inhabit; the land and its resources have been depleted and abused by modern society bent towards profit and expansion. Returning the stewardship and management of Maine’s sacred lands to the Wabanaki, will over time ensure the health and well-being of our land and waterways for generations to come, a vision we can all get behind.

It is normal to sometimes feel overwhelmed, ineffective, and hopeless in the face of so many injustices in the world. An antidote can be to turn your gaze to your own community to see what can be done. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

It has been a long wait for the Wabanaki. We cannot undo what was done by our predecessors, but we can stand behind acts like LD 1907 and others like it and insist that our legislators do the same. It is right. It is time.