HOULTON — The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians will be host to as many as 200 people attending the 11th annual Wabanaki Education Conference this week in Houlton.
The theme for this year’s conference is “Maine 2000 and the Challenges for Native Americans.” It opens Thursday, May 6, at the Maliseet Tribal Headquarters in Littleton, and continues Friday, May 7, at the Shiretown Atrium in Houlton.
Indian educators and tribal leaders from Maine and New Brunswick, and from other areas of the United States are expected to attend.
The conference is sponsored by the Maine Department of Education, Maine Indian Education, the New England Multifunctional Resource Center for Language & Culture in Education, and the New England Center for Equity Assistance.
According to Sue Duff, director of education for the Houlton Band of Maliseets, the basic thrust of the conference is to look at education as it pertains to American Indian students, and try to determine what can be done to provide them with a more positive educational experience.
Maliseet tribal Chairman Clair Sabattis said that in the past, educational attainment among American Indians was very low. In recent years, he said, more native students are staying in school rather than dropping out. An increasing number choose to go on to college, he added.
He said a special part of the educational conference would be the opportunity for tribal representatives to share information and see where their individual tribal education levels are.
At least 20 native and non-native American education experts from the elementary through the university level, as well as from the state will offer workshops ranging from native studies in elementary education to the role American Indian forms of government played in shaping the U.S. Constitution. There also will be a panel discussion featuring high school freshmen from three Maine reservations.
The keynote speaker will be Walt Cummings of the University of Maine who will discuss the relationship of power, spirit and discipline.
An added bonus to this year’s conference will be a powwow at the Maliseet tribal headquarters in Littleton the night before the conference.
Sabattis said tribal leaders from across Maine and New Brunswick were invited to attend the powwow to demonstrate native skills and customs particular to their individual tribes.
The powwow will include native foods, Wabenaki drumming demonstrations, and cultural activities. As many as 300 people are expected to attend.
“There has never been (a powwow) of this magnitude in the County,” said Duff. “It’s going to be one of the biggest cultural events we’ve had in this area in a long time.”
She said the powwow would be open to the public, and that area government and religious leaders had been invited to attend.
“We want to try to make a correlation between the two communities to show that they’re not really that different,” she said. “A lot of myths have developed over the years. It’s an opportunity to share cultures and see for themselves that there is something very positive happening.”