Native Village 
Youth and Education News

December  2012

Taken: Maine addresses native child welfare issues
Condensed by Native Village


Maine: Imagine being taken from your family at an early age and growing up in a place where no one looks like you, speaks your language or shares your beliefs.

It happened to generations of Native Americans

"I remember two station wagons coming to my house and collecting all our belongings in garbage bags and herding us into the station wagons and leaving my home," says Passamaquoddy Denise Altvater. "My mother wasn't there when they took us.

Altvater and five of her sisters spent seven years in foster care. They were sexually and physically abused ... but Altvater says the separation from their culture and pressure to deny their heritage was most wounding.

Today, the State of Maine admits to its role in the saga and is taking unprecedented actions: it has agreed to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with its four Wabanaki tribes. Maine is the first government to ever do so in format where all parties work together from the start.

"Its about truth, healing and change," says Martha Proulx from Maine's Dept. of

Health and Human Services. "And its really about hearing those stories of people who went through the system ... how it effects their families today with their own children."

State workers will also be invited to testify at hearings.

"Caseworkers at the time were really doing what was believed to be best practice," says Proulx.  "I don't think anybody enters the social work field with bad intentions and wanting to cause more harm and trauma to families.  [People were] doing the best with the knowledge at the time. Unfortunately this knowledge ... wasn't the best and did impact native families in a negative way." 

Among the goals of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Educate all Mainers about a dark chapter in their collective history
Provide a framework to ensure it never happens again
Illuminate a path forward

Learn more
 Maine's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

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