Law | National

MPBN: Commission to look at Indian child welfare issues in Maine





"Chiefs from all five of Maine's tribes joined Gov. Paul LePage today in signing an historic agreement to create a Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It will examine child welfare practices that once resulted in large numbers of Indian children being forcibly removed from their homes. The ceremony in the State House Hall of Flags marks the first time that such an effort has occurred in the United States between Indian nations and a state government. Tribal members consider the agreement crucial to their healing process.

The statistics are sobering. Chief Brenda Commander of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians says at one time, 16 percent of all Maliseet children were in state custody. In the 1970's the Federal Indian Policy Commission backed that up with a report that found Indian children in Aroostook County were being placed in foster homes 60 percent more often than non-native children.

Finally, Commander says, members of her tribe took a stand. "One dark, cold night, again, they came in force to remove two teenage girls: three DHHS workers, one town police officer and one state trooper with an emergency removal order unsigned by a judge."

But instead of turning the girls over to the authorities, tribal members held firm and ordered the state workers off their land. It was a turning point in a tragic chapter of tribal-state relations that Commander says threatened the very survival of her tribe and many others. "We finally found courage and a voice to demand change.""

Get the Story:
Maine signs Historic 'Truth and Reconciliation' Agreement with Indian Tribes (Maine Public Broadcasting Network 6/29)

Also Today:
State, Wabanaki tribes to sign mandate, look into history of harmful child welfare practices (The Bangor Daily News 6/29)