BANGOR, Maine — Native tribes have called Maine home for thousands of years, and the nonprofit Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness is looking to open a new youth and cultural center in downtown Bangor to help the community better understand the Wabanaki culture.
The organization's co-CEO, Lisa Sockabasin, said the new expansion will offer the community a place to learn about Wabanaki culture and values and allow the organization to merge its services into one location.
"I think this project is long overdue," Sockabasin said. "I think Bangor has needed a strong presence of Wabanaki people for some time."
The new facility will be a gathering place for indigenous young people, as well, by being a place they can go after school, where they can connect to mentors and connect to their culture.
"What I'm most looking forward to is getting together with my family and coming in here and looking at all the designs and art," River Dana, a 13-year-old member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, said.
Dana also said he is excited for a rock-climbing wall that will be meant to represent Katahdin, a mountain sacred to Wabanaki tribes in Baxter State Park.
While Sockabasin thinks this project is overdue, it comes months after a report showed schools in Maine were not doing enough to meet the standards of the 2001 Wabanaki Studies Law.
The report, released in October by the Abbe Museum, ACLU of Maine, Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission, and the Wabanaki Alliance, said "school districts have failed to include Wabanaki Studies consistently and appropriately in their curriculum and that the law is not being meaningfully enforced."
"You wouldn't believe how many times I went into rooms, and people didn't even know there were tribes in Maine," Maulian Dana, Penobscot Nation Ambassador and board president of the Wabanaki Alliance, said.
There is still a long way to go on Wabanaki education in Maine schools, according to Sockabasin, but she said she hopes this new cultural center can help teach people more about the indigenous tribes who have called this land home for so long.
"That education of our [Wabanaki] values and our relationship to this territory needs to be fully understood," Sockabasin said.
Sockabasin said she expects the new youth and cultural center to be open to the community in the latter half of 2023.