On Tuesday night, two Wabanaki Native Americans came from Maine to teach us about the Maine-Wabanaki Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Esther Attean provided us with historical background and gave us a brief history of the Native Americans’ experiences with the federal government of the United States. The 1755 Bounty Proclamation gave rewards for capturing Wabanaki dead or alive. The 1819 Civilization Fund Act’s goal was to ‘civilize the Indian,’ the 1830 Indian Removal Act to ‘make the Indian disappear.’ In 1882 Native American religious rituals were banned and they did not gain the right to religious freedom until 1978. The goal of the 1887 Dawes Act was for white buyers to profit off of selling indigenous land in individual plot sizes, something the natives never would have thought of. In 1954 they gained the right to vote in federal elections.
These attitudes have negatively affected child welfare policies, which is the focus of this TRC. Denise Altvater, another speaker, was a victim of the 1958 experiment to prove that Native American children were better off in white homes. She was put in a foster home with her six sisters and they were tortured, starved, raped and beaten for four years while the state did nothing. Finally they moved the girls to a different home, one they did well in. But, one day, without warning, they were sent back to the reservation. The experiment had failed, as most native people had expected it to, and the children who were taken into white homes for this experiment had suffered tremendously and still do today because of the trauma that they experienced.
Rather than an apology, the Wabanaki are simply seeking recognition on the part of the majority of the American population. Education plays a big role in this process, and I hope one day, that Native American history will be taught in all schools so that we can move forward and improve the lives of these people who have suffered from genocidal policies and oppression for centuries.
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