Educators learn how to teach histories, cultures

ORONO, Maine – The state’s kindergarten to grade 12 educators will have the opportunity again this summer to learn how to teach students about the history and culture of Maine’s indigenous peoples while earning undergraduate or graduate credits toward their degrees.

The Wabanaki Summer Institute will hold a five-day seminar at the University of Maine in Orono, a place named after 18th century Penobscot Chief Joseph Orono who encouraged his fellow Penobscots to side with the Americans during the Revolutionary War.

The seminar, called ”Doing Research with Primary Resources,” will be held Aug. 6 through Aug. 10 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This will be the fourth Wabanaki Summer Institute on Wabanaki Studies. The program aims to support educators in implementing a law – L.D. 291 – that was passed in 2001 mandating the inclusion of Maine tribes’ history in the school curricula. The Wabanaki tribes – the ”people of the dawn” – include the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac tribal nations.

The institute has attracted more participants each year, said Julie Nowell, assistant to Maureen E. Smith, director of Native American Studies and associate professor of interdisciplinary studies at the University of Maine at Orono, who runs the program.

”Around 40 people attended the last seminar. It was a mixture of teachers, faculty and staff. We get community leaders from each tribe, or sometimes a couple from each tribe, who come in and teach about tribal history and culture and also what’s happening now with each individual tribe,” Nowell said.

The educators attending the seminar also get to spend a day ”in the field.”

”On one day of the seminar, the whole class goes to Indian Island, where they get a tour and do some fun stuff, and then we have a big huge traditional Native dinner with moose meat and fiddleheads and all the stuff they ate back in the time – and still do,” Nowell said.

Maine educators at all grade levels, including teachers, staff involved in curriculum development, educational technicians and even preschool teachers, are encouraged to attend the Summer Institute.

Nowell has set up a Web site – www.umaine.edu/ld291 – that will be a repository for all kinds of information, resources and links to help support educators as they learn to teach about the Wabanaki peoples.

September 2004 was the deadline for Maine’s schools to begin instruction in Native history.

”There’s been a lot done, but there is still a lot to be done. That’s why we have to get the information out there and why we have the institute. Some of the tribes, the Penobscots in particular, do stuff on their own to try to get the information out by doing workshops around the state each year,” Nowell said.

The law that mandated Wabanaki Studies also created the 15-member Maine Native American History and Culture Commission, known as the Wabanaki Studies Commission. The commission is comprised of two representatives from each of the tribes, six educators appointed by the commissioner of education, and one member appointed by the chancellor of the University of Maine.

Smith, a member of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, chairs the Wabanaki Studies Commission. The legislation mandating Wabanaki Studies was passed without any funding, but until this year the commission’s work has been funded by the university, the tribes and the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission.

The summer program was in jeopardy of cancellation this year because of a lack of funding, but MITSC came to the rescue by helping to secure a $15,000 grant from the BIA, Nowell said.

MITSC Executive Director John Dieffenbacher-Krall said he learned of some unexpended funds at the BIA and the tribal leaders wrote to BIA Director of the Eastern Office Franklin Keel asking for $15,000 at the end of May.

”So hearing that and knowing there was a need at the Summer Institute and the tribes have a collective interest in seeing more teachers trained and becoming proficient in teaching about Wabanaki history, culture, tribal government and economic system, BIA Superintendent Dean White redirected the money at the end of the fiscal year. He did some reprogramming and he made it happen, so he gets a lot of credit. We’re very appreciative of the BIA’s support,” Dieffenbacher-Krall said.

The money was channeled to the university through the Penobscot Nation, which acted as financial sponsor for the transaction.

For more information about the Wabanaki Summer Institute, call (207) 581-4450 or e-mail maureen.e.smith@umit.maine.edu or Julie.Nowell@umit.maine.edu.

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