The Penobscot Nation, Passamaquoddy Tribe, Mi’kmaq Nation, and Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians (collectively known as the Wabanaki tribes) have lived for thousands of years in the land we now call Maine. Despite colonization and attempted genocide—including the forced removal of their children—the Wabanaki tribes have endured as sovereign and self-determining peoples, with distinct and diverse languages, cultures, governments, and economic structures. A landmark law signed on June 15, 2001, requires schools to teach Maine K–12 students about Wabanaki territories, economic systems, cultural systems, governments, and political systems, as well as the Wabanaki tribes’ relationships with local, state, national, and international governments. This Wabanaki Studies Law, now codified at 20-A M.R.S. § 4706(2), is critical to overcoming stereotypes and ignorance about Indigenous peoples, which are harmful to Wabanaki students and non-Native students alike.
Just over twenty years after its enactment, the ACLU of Maine, the Wabanaki Alliance, and the Abbe Museum undertook to evaluate the successes, challenges, and future of this important law. The purpose of this report is to celebrate the purpose of Wabanaki Studies Law, to assess current implementation of the law, and to urge leaders at all levels of our education system to do more to ensure complete implementation of this important law.
- The Wabanaki Studies Law is not meaningfully enforced across the state.
- School districts have failed to consistently and appropriately include Wabanaki Studies in their curriculum.
- Teacher training and professional development remain insufficient to equip educators to teach Wabanaki Studies.
- Reinstate the Wabanaki Studies Commission.
- The Department of Education should update the Maine Learning Results with specific learning outcomes for Wabanaki Studies.
- School districts must be held accountable through a review of comprehensive education plans
- Community members should be involved in holding their school districts accountable.
- The Department of Education should work with the newly constituted Wabanaki Studies Commission to create a model curriculum.
- The Department of Education and school administrative districts must support educators with access to materials to teach Wabanaki Studies.
- Wabanaki Studies must be required as part of teacher certification and continuing teacher education.
Those who sponsored, supported, and enacted the Wabanaki Studies Law, and those on the Wabanaki Studies Commission responsible for the first steps in implementing it, were driven by a vision of a more just Maine. That vision is worth acknowledging and celebrating, even as we take the time to observe how far we still must go to realize it. To do justice to these students—and generations of students to come—all stakeholders in our education system must do their part to ensure full implementation of the Wabanaki Studies Law.