Learn more at https://firstlightlearningjourney.net
Why: We Care Deeply About Land And Place
The primary reason we initiated this learning journey is that Maine’s Native people, and people involved in land conservation in Maine, care deeply for and about land and place. This shared care for nature creates opportunities.
The purpose of First Light Learning Journey is to foster awareness and points of relationship between Native and non-Native conservationists that will lead directly to expanded access to land and water natural and cultural resources for Wabanaki people, who today have access to less than 1% of the land that once supported their place-based cultures. Land Trusts now have ties to almost 20% of the state which very likely includes untold places of importance to Wabanaki people. By creating shared experiences and building contacts among a group of interested conservationists, and creating a network from which more knowledge can be shared over time, we are spreading the learning to more land trusts and individuals.
Our reciprocal goals are to expand Wabanaki access to land and water and to strengthen the conservation movement in Maine by including indigenous expertise and perspective.
This work arises from dialogue with Wabanaki people, and from within a conservation movement who seek to learn, to grow and to explore ways of collaborating and sharing knowledge, land, and resources. We hope our shared narrative about place can grow over time and at the speed of trust to include commitment to social justice, food security and cultural prosperity.
Who Take Part In The Journey?
Maine's Land Trusts
As owners or holders of rights of over 2 million acres of land around the state, land trusts may have places that offer opportunities for Wabanaki uses, storytelling and presence.
A land trust is a charitable organization that acquires land or conservation easements, or that stewards land or easements, to achieve one or more conservation purposes that may include protecting natural habitat, water quality, or scenic views; ensuring that the land is always available for farming, forestry, or outdoor recreational use; or protecting other values provided by open land. For a number of reasons, land trusts generally do very little to no advocacy work, instead focusing primarily on working cooperatively with landowners to complete real estate transactions, sometimes purchasing property interests, sometimes accepting donations of those interests. They also try to connect people with land in different ways – owning and managing lands as available for public use and enjoyment, hosting outdoors events, leading walks, teaching about nature and its resources, and creating educational programming for schools and other groups about plants, wildlife, and land stewardship.
Maine has about 90 land trusts around the state, ranging in size from global scale organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, to statewide ones such as Maine Farmland Trust or Forest Society of Maine, to regional, to very localized and often all-volunteer that work only in one small area/town.
This Journey involves a subset of about 25 of those land trusts, Friends groups, and funders who are interested in exploring the possibilities of connections with Wabanaki people, needs and interests.
Maine's Wabanaki Tribal Nations
Wabanaki means “people of the dawn land” and is a term that refers collectively to the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Eastern Abenaki tribal nations whose territories make up the lands now known as Maine in the United States, and eastern Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick Provinces in Canada. Historians claim that the Wabanaki have lived on this land for more than 12,000 years; oral history asserts they have been here since the beginning. They defined their richness by the health and balance of their people, their relationship with the land, and their ability to ensure the health and well-being of their people in practical ways. At the core of Wabanaki culture are strongly held values of generosity and reciprocity; life depended on cooperation, and relationships were created and maintained through routine sharing.
Within the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot nations, there are nearly 8,000 tribal members in Maine today. Due to a tumultuous history that we will learn about, Wabanaki language and history is often not known or told, and those longstanding ties to places are in danger of being forgotten. Wabanaki do not always feel welcome to visit places that they once used, visited, lived in, and need access to land and water to teach or practice their culture, or cultivate and harvest plants important to their culture such as brown ash and sweetgrass.
What Is The Journey?
We seek authentic engagement among 25 non-Native conservationists and representatives of the four tribes on seven occasions over 18 months. First Light Learning Journey will help the conservationists to learn about Native land loss and to develop a personal analysis of power and privilege. We will travel to each of the Tribes to listen and to learn. We will co-create a conference with Wabanaki natural resource directors to understand the benefits of using new tools such as cultural easements A canoe expedition together will connect us in nature. Toward the end of the learning journey, we will co-create a collaborative conference between Wabanaki and non-Native conservationists to discuss specific opportunities to access land trust land.
To keep the Journey feasible and fundable, we need to limit its participation in size, and we will count on participants sharing and building on the results to spread its impact. Reached out to first were a collection of people tied to land trusts around Maine with current or past projects connecting with Maine’s native people, or who have been part of workshops on the topic. Over recent years there have been several positive examples of successful collaboration between Indian and non-Indians to protect sacred land and resources in Maine: the Penobscot river restoration, the petroglyphs project in Machias, the Nibezun project in Passadumkeag and the efforts to open up Acadia National Park to Wabanaki people for plant gathering and drumming on Cadillac mountain. There is much more collaboration and sharing of legal rights to land that can be achieved through willing partnerships.
We understand that allies need to be supportive by working within their own networks to make them more equitable -in short to do their own work first - and part of this learning journey is about training non-Indians about history and making it more possible for us to meet as equal partners in this work.
We expect the sharing of personal story and knowledge will build trust and relationship and lead to much more collaboration in different places in Maine. If it is wanted, we will share with Wabanaki leadership the opportunities of the land trust model, legal and tax benefits that have been enjoyed almost exclusively by non-Native land trusts, and we will connect these new Maine colleagues to the growing Native Land Trust movement in the west.
Hopes and Goals: What we Journey Towards
- More Points of Contact: Expand the points of contact between Wabanaki and land trusts, create more some shared experiences, on which some longer term and deeper relationships can, and we hope will, be built.
- Awareness, Understanding and Sensitivity: More and better understanding among Learning Journey participants, and others with whom they share, of the realities and history of Wabanaki history and presence in Maine.
- Learning about Options: Creating and providing clear information on ways that Wabanaki people might work with land trusts, to feel welcome on land trust preserves, to create access for ceremonies, traditional uses, traditional plant cultivation or harvests, art forms, or written or oral history and storytelling in or on special places around Maine that land trusts own or manage.
- Share Land Trust Land: Create a way to show land trust lands to Wabanaki. There may be special places that native people don’t realize are managed or owned by land trusts, and therefore accessible for walking or field trips, or for signs that tell about the native history or name.
- Learning About Tools: An awareness/understanding of the pros and cons, and some examples of some of the tools used in other parts of the country to solidify cultural uses and heritage tied to land trust lands, which might be used in Maine.