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New bill aims to strengthen Wabanaki Studies Law

Lawmakers are proposing legislation to make the decades-old Wabanaki Studies Law more effective.

AUGUSTA, Maine — State lawmakers are looking for ways to make the decades-old Wabanaki Studies Law more effective.

A study released in October showed many Maine school districts are not meeting the standards of a law requiring schools to teach Wabanaki studies.

The 2001 Wabanaki Studies Law requires schools to teach Wabanaki history, culture, and about economic and political systems. Rep. Laurie Osher, D-Orono, is proposing a bill to make the law more effective.

"It was a wonderful idea to put this law into existence, but it hasn't reached its intended audience," Osher said.

With the bill, she said she hopes to reinstate a permanent "Wabanaki Studies Commission" which would find materials and resources to help teach Wabanaki courses and get permanent funding to help teachers continue their own education on the topic.

Some schools, like Bangor High School, have recently created Wabanaki courses. The school started offering a Mi'kmaq language course co-taught by a member of the Aroostook band of Mi'kmaqs via Zoom.

"There has been some curriculum developed because there are people who that is their passion or they are from Wabanaki communities and they are teachers," Osher said. "It's easier for them to access information that's valuable that they could teach."

She said she hopes her bill will make it easier for school districts to access more resources to help improve their Wabanaki education.

Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness Co-CEO, Lisa Sockabasin, told NEWS CENTER MAINE in January that the lack of Wabanaki education is a disservice not just to Indigenous peoples but also to all Mainers.

"That education of our [Wabanaki] values and our relationship to this territory needs to be fully understood. The only way we're going to fully understand it is if we integrate it into our curriculum," Sockabasin said.

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