WERU News Report 1/30/13

Producer/Host: Amy Browne
Audio recorded by: John Greenman

Program Topic: Esther Altvater Attean, director of community organizing, for the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission process, speaking at the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine in Bangor’s commemoration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. on Sunday, January 20.

A Passamaquoddy Tribal citizen, Esther Attean holds an MSW from the University of Maine. She has been with the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine for nine years and is the lead staff person for the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. For seven years prior she worked for the Penobscot Nation Department of Human Services, providing family support and community program development services. With a background in community organizing and social justice, she is particularly knowledgeable about oppression, intergenerational trauma and Indian child welfare in the United States. Esther has been a guest in the Penobscot Nation community for almost three decades and resides there with her four children.

From the Maine TRC website (www.mainetribaltrc.org/ ):

Beginning in the late 1800’s, the United States government established boarding schools intended to solve the “Indian problem” through assimilation. Henry Richard Pratt, the founder of Carlisle Indian Industrial School, described his effort as an attempt to “kill the indian and save the man” In the 1950’s and 1960’s the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America created the Indian Adoption Project which removed hundreds of native children from their families and tribes to be adopted by non-native families. In 1978, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which codified higher standards of protection for the rights of native children, their families and their tribal communities. Within the ICWA, Congress stated that, “No resource is more vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children” and that “Child welfare agencies had failed to recognize the essential tribal relations of Indian people and the culture and social standards prevailing in Indian communities and families” (25 U.S.C.& 1901).

Important progress has been made with the passage of the ICWA and the work of the Maine ICWA Workgroup, but Maine’s child welfare history continues to impact Wabanaki children and families today.