Wabanaki Public Health will soon open Maine's first indigenous women’s recovery facility in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Indigenous women recovering from substance use disorder will soon have their own residential facility in Bangor, thanks to Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness and the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township.  

The tribe and health organization partnered to open the recovery facility in Maine after purchasing a home near downtown Bangor in April, Wabanaki Public Health co-chief executive officer Lisa Sockabasin said.

The new facility will be devoted to housing Indigenous women in recovery. Wabanaki Public Health expects to receive its operating certification in early June, and will open after that to residency applicants, Sockabasin said.

The partnership grew out of a recognition that Indigenous women face barriers to treatment because of a lack of child care, making them unable to leave their homes to go into residential treatment or detoxification facilities, said William Nicholas, the chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township. That prompted Wabanaki Health and Passamaquoddy members to work together to start a women’s-only facility, he said.

Left to right, Wabanaki Public Health will soon open Maine’s first indigenous women’s recovery facility in Bangor. The home will house up to 10 women from all five indigenous tribes and one staff member. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik

It’s difficult for Indigenious people to leave supportive environments and enter into a conventional treatment facility that isn’t trained in the traditions and customs that have been passed down for generations between tribal members, Nicholas said.

Native Americans report some of the highest rates of substance use disorder of any U.S. racial or ethnic group, according to data from the National Institutes of Health.

Wabanaki Public Health also operates recovery homes for Indigenous men in Millinocket and Bangor. Their success stems from their ability to provide culturally appropriate treatment for Indigenous people in recovery, Nicholas said.

“We’ve been successful with being able to have that as an everyday part of [residents’] lives, even though they’re away from their homes and the reservation,” he said.

The Bangor facility, decorated with photos of Katahdin and moose, will shelter up to 10 women from all five Indigenous tribal communities in Maine and a Wabanaki Public Health staff member, and will offer culturally sensitive recovery services, Sockabasin said.

The facility will offer smudging ceremonies, counseling and support groups for women to reconnect with their Indigenous heritage, each other and their families.

Left to right, Wabanaki Public Health will soon open Maine’s first indigenous women’s recovery facility in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik

“One of the biggest things that we do in our recovery services is make connections,” Sockabasin said. “What we want is that reconnection of culture, reconnection to our land and reconnection to our families.”

Smudging is the ritual burning of sacred herbs like sage, sweetgrass, cedar and tobacco.

The recovery home will also reserve a room for women to host their families and take steps to mend their relationships that will be stocked with supplies like toys for young children.

The residents will not be limited in how long they can live there, but on average, women in recovery spend less than a year living in Wabanaki Public Health’s facilities, Sockabasin said.

“These women have goals of their own, and once they are healing, and once they are on their journey to wellness, there are other opportunities for them,” she said.

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.