Wabanaki Arts Festival One Part of Larger Collaboration

Story posted April 08, 2009

In a desire to increase communication between Bowdoin and Maine's four tribal communities, the College organized the Wabanaki Arts Festival, now in its second year.

The festival, with its beautiful baskets, jewelry and other crafts, draws performance artists as well, including drum groups and singers.

Bowdoin is listening to the music and the voices — and it isn't alone.

Wabanaki Arts Festival
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Wabanaki baskets

Bowdoin College will sponsor the second annual Wabanaki Arts Festival Saturday, April 11, 2009.

The festival brings to campus 25 Wabanaki crafters and artisans, a drum group, a traditional Penobscot singer and a storyteller.

More about the festival here.


The Collaboration

The Wabanaki-Bates-Bowdoin-Colby (WBBC) Collaborative was initiated in the spring of 2007 as an effort to increase partnerships between the three colleges and the four Native American Tribes in Maine.

The Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac chiefs, and the college presidents from Bates, Bowdoin and Colby agreed that a key focus of this partnership should be to increase the numbers of Wabanaki students who pursue college degrees, and especially to increase Wabanaki attendance at Bates, Bowdoin and Colby.

"The young people in the Wabanaki communities don't really see Bowdoin, Bates or Colby as options in their future — and many don't even plan to attend college," says Leslie Shaw, research associate in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the liaison for Native American affairs through the Office of the President.

"The BBC college students begin working with the Wabanaki students in the fourth grade and continue through eighth grade, with the hope that by the time they reach high school, they see college in their future and take courses that will prepare them for places such as Bowdoin."

The WBBC Collaborative committee includes members from the three colleges and representatives from the Tribes and the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC).

The Strategies

For the 2007-2008 academic year, the committee initiated efforts to increase the numbers of Wabanaki students in the colleges using three strategies that are again in use this academic year.

The first takes the long-term perspective by focusing on Wabanaki students in grades 4-8, with teams of BBC students visiting the classrooms and, using games, art projects and discussion groups, introducing students to the possibility of college in their future.

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The 2008 WBBC College Aspirations school visit team included (L. to r.) group leader Cati Mitchell '09, Bruce Baird '08, Catherine Doyle-Capitman '09, Jeremy Kraushar '09, Brittany Ogden '08 and Birgitta Polson '09

For Bowdoin, the May visits to the Wabanaki classrooms will be led by Rick Thompson, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience.

"We are trying to increase the awareness of college among young people, primarily those in middle school," says Thompson.

Thompson and six science majors are preparing to make presentations at Micmac, Penobscot, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy schools in northern Maine.

"We are going to try to set up some interactive science demonstrations, led by the Bowdoin students, and have them talk a little bit about their college experiences."

The second effort brings Wabanaki high school students and their counselors to the three colleges, and provides them with day-long activities that introduce aspects of the college application process, academics and college life.

The BBC admissions offices are busy planning the four-day campus visits in June for Wabanaki high school students and their counselors.

The third initiative, also somewhat long-term in scope, is designed to improve the campus climate for Native American students who attend the three colleges by supporting cultural and academic activities that increase awareness and understanding by the respective campus communities.

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Artwork from the Indian Island School gym

The Wabanaki Arts Festival is a shining example of this, offering opportunities for the Tribal, campus and midcoast communities to interact.

The WBBC Collaborative intends to continue this partnership for many years, and the first two years have been successful in a number of interconnected ways.

"For instance, the arts festival brings Tribal elders and parents to Bowdoin's campus, and they in turn go back and talk about the prospect of college with young people in their communities," says Shaw.

The BBC student visits to Wabanaki classrooms have begun to get teachers and parents more involved in the efforts to increase an awareness of opportunities in higher education.

The WBBC Collaborative hopes to build upon these interactions and partnerships in the future, and discussions concerning the 2009-2010 programs are already underway.

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