School communities unite
How much do you know about
the Wabanaki Confederacy? An
answer indicating that knowledge
among students at the College
about Native American tribes in
Maine was seriously lacking
became one of the reasons to start
the collaboration between Native
American tribes and Colby, Bates
and Bowdoin Colleges last fall.
The purpose of the WBBC
(Working to Build Bridges to
Communities) project is to
increase college students' awareness
about Wabanaki tribes and to
motivate Native American youth to
The dialogue started several years ago when tribal leaders, led by their enthusiasm to work for increased college awareness among Wabanaki youth, took the initiative to work with CBB. Kristen Ortiz '09 said she is grateful that the project felt like collaboration from both sides as opposed to an imposition or efforts by only one group. What the tribal elders are hoping to achieve through the program are long-run benefits for the Wabanaki tribes, including increased college attendance by Wabanaki youth, who will receive higher education and then return to help rebuild their communities, explained Ortiz. Wabanaki natives in Maine include the P a s s ama q u o d d y, Maliseet, Penobscot, and Mi'kmaq (pronounced "Micmac") tribes. Last year, four students from the College visited the tribes during spring break. This year there were about 20 applications from interested students, and eight were accepted to the program, which took place during the week of spring break. In addition to Ortiz, the students involved were Andrea Birnbaum '12, Leslie Hutchings '11, Jenny Dean '10, Emily Pavelle '10, Ozzy Ramirez '09, Kelsey Potdevin '09 and Jake Obstfeld '09.
The program was directed and received support from Janice Kassman, Special Assistant to External Affairs for the President's Office, and Mark Tappan, Professor and Director of Education at Colby. Kassman organized the initiative by talking to tribal leaders and arranging trip logistics. Tappan worked with participating students to help them prepare their schedules and guide them on which topics would be relevant for their respective age groups, as students in the program ranged from fourth through eighth grade. The students started preparation for the project by meeting once a week for the month prior to spring break to discuss a schedule. They decided to play a Colby-themed jeopardy game so that facts about the College could be presented in a fun way. They also prepared a video of their own extracurricular activities at the College, including a swimming practice, a jazz band rehearsal and a dance practice. The student volunteers explained that the Passamaquoddy tribe had two schools and the Penobscot had one. Neither the Maliseet nor the Mi'kmaq had their own schools; Ramirez noticed that children from these tribes who attended public schools were shy and less open, while the other children were extremely receptive and engaged. When the time for questions came, Ramirez was surprised that most of the kids were curious about financial aid opportunities for higher education. They were glad to hear that there are plenty of opportunities for accepted students to pursue an education at institutions like Colby, Bates and Bowdoin Colleges, regardless of income. The college students' trip to the schools, entitled Early College Awareness, was only the first step of the project. The next stage is Campus Climate improvement for Native American students. It will be led by the Four Winds Club, the Native American Association at Colby that has been working to voice its messages to the community. Jim Sapier, a tribal leader, is scheduled to visit the College on April 28 to continue the conversation between Native Americans and the College's community. Bowdoin and Bates will start the project at the end of April and May, respectively. The third step is bringing the Wabanaki children to CBB campuses over the summer. Janice Kassman will direct the initiative on Campus.
The student participants from the College say they are happy to have been a part of the WBBC experience. Ortiz said she felt like she could connect with and understand the native youth as she, herself, is a Native Hawaiian. Ramirez is glad that he could contribute to the program for increased awareness about Maine's Native American population. He was surprised to see how two completely different worlds only four hours apart can remain so misunderstood. Further, he finds it scary that there are so many misconceptions about Native Americans, and is hopeful that now the Native American youth will be more aware of available opportunities to pursue higher education.