A Shared Pursuit: Protecting Maine Land and Supporting Indigenous Freedom

     Ulrich said, “Those of us who are in the conservation community around Maine, we’re missing history. We’re missing knowledge. We’re missing some voices at the table as well.” She said, “These are people who know the plants, know the animals, know the places all around us and have for a long time.” 

     The committee has aimed to better support Maine’s vibrant natural landscape through Indigenous perspectives. This was not a customary practice.

     Darren Ranco, Professor of Anthropology and Coordinator of Native American Research at the University of Maine, representative for the Wabanaki Commission on the Land and Stewardship, said, “Any land trust, any work related to protecting lands that does not engage and center Indigenous peoples in leadership, I think is one that is lacking.” Colonial practices historically harmed the native tribes and the environment alike. The committee believes that linking the gap between limited conservation tools and knowledge with Wabanaki needs and goals would strengthen conservation and support Indigenous people at the same time.

     The Wabanaki define natural resources beyond their uses as food or income. The waterways, the fish, the animals and the plants have cultural value. Indigenous people ritually care for these resources.

     Sweetgrass has always been a plant of significance to the Wabanaki. It grows abundantly in the Acadia National Park region. Tribes were prohibited from tending to these plants on protected lands until very recently. “If we don’t tend to it and pick it, it will start to disappear. But when we pick it, it returns more and more each year.” The fact that privately owned land and state policy do not readily support Indigenous practices of cultural land conservation raises concern.

     “As Wabanaki we are taught through various teachings and stories that our responsibility in our first relations are with obviously each other. But also, with our non-human relations and the places that are now in the category of the state of Maine,” Ranco said.

     Improving land protection methods and meeting Indigenous needs are the foundation of the First Light Committee. This delegation changed land conservation trust practices to address damage imposed on the Wabanaki and the environment. They have been focusing attention on state and federal policy, while working to build lasting, authentic connections with the Wabanaki tribes.