On Wednesday, Nov. 13, in the basement of Pettengill Hall, members of the Bates community gathered to hear a talk from Maulian Dana, the Penobscot Nation Ambassador.
While it was not the first time Dana has visited Bates, (she previously spoke at a decolonizing workshop at the College last year) her talk was well attended. The ambassador focused her time on what it was like to be an indigenous person in Maine, and her own tribe’s relationship to the state and the federal government.
The Penobscot tribe is prominent in Maine, and Dana was recently appointed the official ambassador of the group. Previously, she worked as the Human Resources Director for the Penobscot Indian National Enterprises and worked in the Penobscot Nation Cultural & Historic Preservation Department.
Anthropology professor Kristen Barnett introduced Dana and pointed to the importance of Bates’ relationship with Native Americans.
“Bates has historically had a complicated relationship with native communities,” she said. “[We are] beginning to pay acute attention to the amount of work we need to do. Proper acknowledgement will come as a result of institutionalized efforts.”
Two of the projects Dana has undertaken as ambassador included removing anti-indigenous mascots from Maine and doing away with the state’s “Hunt for the Indian” holiday event. Although it was difficult, she was able to work with the local and state governments, including meeting with Governor Janet Mills to ban those things.
When she met with Mills, she was pleased with her opinions on issues surrounding indigenous people.
“She agreed that Indian mascots have no place in Maine,” Dana said. “She agreed that celebrating Columbus Day had no place in Maine. Governor Mills is very pro-Maine.”
Dana also pointed to the importance of sitting with someone who you disagree with and talking things out.
“Decolonization is a big concept, but it’s simple,” she said. “It starts with conversations. The conversations we had because of the mascot stuff it is what drives decolonization.”
It’s about “broadening horizons,” she added. “That’s where we see shifts in policy.”
Her fight to ban Indian mascots from Maine schools was an uphill battle, where certain school committees were especially aggressive.
“If we are telling you it hurts to be a mascot, you don’t tell us it doesn’t,” she explained. Although it took some time, she successfully banned Indian mascots.
Dana often has to reckon wih non-indigenous people not understanding the struggles that Native Americans face.
“When you are used to being privileged, equality can feel like oppression,” she said.
One thing that her work has also focused on is trying to keep sovereignty within her tribe. It is difficult, as there are a lot of different laws and acts that each say specific and complicated things.
“Indigenous people have rights, tribal sovereignty is a real thing, let’s work together,” she said. “We will not back down.”
Tribal sovereignty highlights the complicated and sometimes tumultuous relationship between indigenous tribes and the state and federal government.
“As far as sovereignty, in Maine especially, it’s the concept that the federal government owes us a whole lot that’s never going to go away based on theft of land, resources, people, culture, that sort of thing,” she said. “Genocide isn’t five hundred years ago. Throughout the decades, the government was removing Indian children from their homes and sending them to boarding schools. That’s genocide. These environment takeovers – that’s genocide. It hasn’t stopped. There’s not an end date. We paid for it in blood.”
Dana added that it was “almost offensive how much the federal government hasn’t followed up on Native American issues.”
Despite the setbacks, long nights, and hard fights, Dana is still fighting for basic rights for the Penobscot Nation and all indigenous people.