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Wabanaki Leaders, Academics Partner to Restore Maine Ecosystems April 15

Story posted April 04, 2011

It takes many tributaries to make great rivers — and many community partners to clean them up.

Leaders and members of Maine's Native American tribes and Bowdoin College faculty will meet on campus Friday, April 15, 2011, to discuss working together to help restore Maine's waterways. The symposium "Restoring Maine Rivers: Wabanaki and Academic Partnerships" is open to the public free of charge.

"There are many ways in which academia can more deeply partner with the communities in which they do research, and one of those is the Native American community here in Maine," says Bowdoin Liaison for Native American Affairs Leslie Shaw, an anthropologist and symposium organizer. "This kind of conference will allow tribal leaders and Maine environmentalists to come together with academic researchers and really talk."

The symposium will include panel discussions from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Smith Auditorium, Sills Hall, and an evening keynote address by N. Bruce Duthu, Samson Occom Professor and chair of Native American Studies at Dartmouth College.

The Penobscot River, with Mt. Katahdin rising in the distance.

The state of Maine is known for its rivers, coastline, and wild places. It is also home to four Native American tribes — the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot — collectively known as the Wabanaki.

The Wabanaki people have maintained their traditional use of wild food resources for thousands of years, but 20th-century industry and human population growth have left many rivers and lakes with high levels of pollutants, which, in turn, have disturbed the balance of coastal ecosystems.

The 21st century has begun with a growing number of new partnerships between environmentalists, academic researchers, state and federal agencies, and the environmental departments of Maine's tribes, who have all found that with common goals and shared efforts, the future of Maine's environmental health is bright.

The panel discussions will feature participants from different fields, all working to restore Maine's ecosystems for all Maine people, including the Wabanaki.

The first panel (1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.) will address "The Case of the Penobscot River." Participants include John Banks, director of natural resources, Penobscot Nation; Charles Culbertson and Robert Lent, U.S. Geological Survey–Maine Water Science Center; and Barry Dana, Penobscot Nation.

The second panel (2:45 p.m. to 4 p.m.) will address "Restoring Ecosystems in Maine." Participants include Donald Soctomah, tribal historian and museum director for the Passamaquoddy at Indian Township; Sharri Venno, Houlton Band of Maliseets; University of Maine student Jan Paul, Penobscot Nation; and Bowdoin faculty members John Lichter, Samuel S. Butcher Associate Professor in the Natural Sciences in the Environmental Studies Program, and Ted Ames, Coastal Studies Scholar, who are both involved in a five-year study of fish populations in the Kennebec and Androscoggin watersheds.

The evening keynote address by N. Bruce Duthu is titled "Tribal Sovereignty and the Academy: Building a Common Ground." Duthu's lecture is at 7:30 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium, Visual Arts Center.

We often conceive of courts and legislative bodies as being the primary forums with which issues of Native American sovereignty are discussed, debated and mediated. Duthu's talk will put the spotlight on academic institutions and the community of scholars to inquire into their respective roles in advancing knowledge about tribal sovereignty.

N. Bruce Duthu is an internationally recognized scholar of Native American law and policy. He is the author of American Indians and the Law (2008) and is currently working on a new book, Shadow Nations: Tribal Sovereignty and the Limits of Legal Pluralism, under contract with Oxford University Press.

The symposium will also include a reception from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, where the exhibition Imagination Takes Shape: Canadian Inuit Art from the Robert and Judith Toll Collection is on view.

These presentations are part of the Wabanaki and academic partnership program launched by the four Maine tribes and Bowdoin, Bates and Colby Colleges (CBB) in 2007. The partnership's initial goal was to encourage Wabanaki students to attend college. The program has grown to include CBB student visits to the tribal communities, a focused effort to connect with Wabanaki high school students, and an increase in college programming to bring Wabanaki culture and history to the college campuses.

Most recently, during an Alternative Spring Break service trip in March 2011, a group of Bowdoin students worked with middle school students in all four of Maine's tribal communities as part of the ongoing college aspiration program.

This year an interdisciplinary group of CBB faculty opened a discussion on how to incorporate more Native American issues, particularly those relevant to the Wabanaki, into academic courses and faculty-student research. Each of the three campuses hosted events focusing on a relevant issue during the spring of 2011, funded by the CBB Mellon Faculty Collaboration grant.

In February Bates hosted a panel and lecture focused on "Learning and Teaching with Wabanaki Culture." In March Colby hosted discussions centered on "Ways of Knowing, Speaking and Living in the Wabanaki World."

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